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The advancement of technology is amazing. Information about any given subject is just a few keystrokes away; Google has become part of everyday language. Type in a particular topic and information about the subject instantly appears. If computers and Internet aren’t your forte, television also informs. News channels air a variety of programs 24 hours a day, covering topics from entertainment to current events to health information.
Even with all of this information at the tip of our fingers, it still is amazing how many people do not understand or fail to educate themselves about the world around them. When an individual or family member receives a medical diagnosis, every possible resource should be sought to find out more. Those same resources also should be used to educate and dispel myths.
Many myths surround Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. It is prevalent in the population; 5.4 million people living in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease is listed as the sixth leading cause of death in adults, after heart disease, cancer, strokes, accidents and diabetes.
Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. The disease gradually destroys a person’s ability to think, reason, recall memories or to make rational judgments. Working on signals, or lack thereof, from the brain, the body begins to change and shut down as the disease progresses.
Because the origins and course of Alzheimer’s disease remain a mystery, it comes as no surprise it still is misunderstood by the medical community and family caregivers who must care for individuals stricken with the disease.
Because it is such a complex and frightening condition, it only is natural to have misconceptions about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These myths add to the surrounding mystery and often block an individual or family member from learning to better care for the patient.
n Alzheimer’s disease only afflicts the elderly. False. It may be more commonly diagnosed in older people, but early onset, or younger-onset, occurs in people younger than 65.
Experts estimate 200,000 people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.
n Memory loss happens as a person ages. There is some truth to this as memory loss occurs to a degree as a person ages, but there is a difference in recalling memories and information and true dementia. Some elderly people — 80s, 90s and older — do not develop dementia. The brain tends to age like other organs in the body, and the delay in retrieval of information is more noticed as a person ages.
n The artificial sweetener aspartame can cause Alzheimer’s disease. Myth. Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners have been accused of causing a number of diseases, including brain tumors, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. There is little to no evidence to back up these claims, and while doctors do suggest not consuming a large amount of artificial sweeteners for other health reasons, the fear of developing Alzheimer’s is not one of them.
n Aluminum use, such as aluminum foil or cookware, leads to Alzheimer’s. Myth. Aluminum, mercury and other heavy metals have been blamed for many neurological and mental conditions, but never substantiated. It is important to note heavy exposure to lead, such as lead poisoning, may deteriorate brain cells faster and a person may then have more risk of dementia, but common use of aluminum will not cause Alzheimer’s.
n People with Alzheimer’s disease cannot understand what is going on around them. Myth. Just as in other diseases or conditions, every individual is different. The disease affects a person’s ability to communicate and make sense of the world. However, the patient still has the same feelings, and often these feelings can be hurt if not treated with dignity and respect.
n All people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease become violent and aggressive. Myth. Again, every individual is different. Not every person diagnosed with the disease does becomes aggressive. Often, what it viewed as violent or aggressive behavior is the person’s way of trying to communicate and reach out for help. The disease affects the ability to communicate. Couple loss of communication with loss of memory and control and the person may react in a frustrating or frightening way.
It is important to put an end to the myths of Alzheimer’s disease so that treatment, cures, and care are instead the focus. With any diagnosis, it’s important to get the facts and not get caught up in rumors and fabrications. The truth with Alzheimer’s disease is to learn about the disease, seek help, and to treat its victims with respect and dignity.
Contact Senior Life columnist Monica Ruehling at firstname.lastname@example.org.