We have learned a great deal about Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the past couple of decades, but we still don’t have complete understanding of these complex diseases. While there is a lot of information out there, there are also a lot of misunderstandings. Here are five common misconceptions about dementia:
Everyone will develop dementia if they live long enough.
Developing dementia is not inevitable nor a normal part of aging.. It may seem that aging causes dementia because more people affected by progressive dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, are 65 and older. But only 11.3% of the U.S. population aged 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia.
Dementia is just a memory issue.
Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease that causes a progressive loss of cognitive function and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and abilities. Cognitive functioning includes memory but also includes language, thinking, reasoning, problem-solving and self-management. Some other symptoms you might see are mood changes, depression, anxiety and agitation.
Everyone with dementia is the same.
There are many different causes and types of dementia. The symptoms of dementia will vary from person to person, as will the rate of progression of the disease. Not everyone will experience the same effects, such as personal hygiene difficulties, wandering issues or severe agitation. We all are unique with different backgrounds and personalities, which will influence how dementia affects us individually.
They can’t speak for themselves anymore.
Most people with dementia know what they want; it is how they are able to communicate their wants, needs and wishes that changes. Their ability to use and understand language changes with the progression of the disease and this causes them to use other forms of communication. Individuals with dementia will start to use more body language (e.g., facial expressions, gestures, eye movement, etc.) to respond and react to their environment, stimulation and interactions with others.
Nothing can be done to help.
While there is no cure or prevention for Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias, there are numerous interventional and care strategies that can improve the quality of life for both the person with dementia and their care partners.
- Get an early and proper diagnosis and talk with a trusted doctor about approved medications that can help improve some symptoms of dementia.
- Start educating yourself on the disease. Online articles covering a variety of topics, community classes and other resources can help you get a better understanding of what to expect.
- Modify their environment to make it familiar, easy to navigate through and engaging based on the abilities of person with dementia – e.g., reduce clutter, make quiet areas, look at adding security and monitoring systems, etc.
- Simplify their daily routine and break down each task in a step-by-step process that focuses on independence and success.
- Start building your support team – including, but not limited to, family and friends, doctors, pharmacists, physical and/or occupational therapists, your faith community, neighbors, adult day programs, other community-based programs and support groups.