6 Common Myths about Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease
Memory loss and its effects on a family are often misunderstood. Bringing clarity to the issue is vital to empowering you and those you care about to age well.
Here are 6 of the most common myths about memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
Myth: If I have Memory Issues, it’s Alzheimer’s
Throughout life, we have all forgotten the name of someone or misplaced an item. But as we age, there’s a tendency for us to associate these lapses with something more serious, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Many things can result in a lapse of memory. One of the most common is simply being overloaded – trying to process too many things at once. With this, the answer typically comes to mind as soon as you stop forcing yourself to remember.
Medications, stress, vitamin deficiencies and thyroid issues are other common and correctable causes of memory issues.
While memory loss may be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s, the disease is much more complex. As the disease progresses, other abilities such as speech, reasoning, visual perceptions, and coordination become affected, and impact a person’s day-to-day life.
So while memory issues that affect your daily living might be signs of something to be concerned about, simply being forgetful is generally not going to be Alzheimer’s.
Myth: Alzheimer’s is Not That Common
That’s sort of true. For instance, only 1.7% of all Americans have Alzheimer’s. However, as of 2015, that’s 5.3 million people, and worldwide the number is approximately 44 million.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 3 Americans over 85 have Alzheimer’s. As age increases, the rate of incidence increases. In fact, age is the number one risk factor.
Myth: Alzheimer’s is Innocent and Requires Little Attention
The image of a cute, senile grandmother happily rocking in her chair couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is possibly the most complex caregiving situation for which a family can be confronted. It can start innocently enough, giving the family a false sense, but will eventually have a significant emotional, physical, and financial toll.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 17% of caregivers had to quit their jobs due to the demands of caregiving. In another report, 28% said they spent more than 40 hours a week on caregiving duties.
Caregivers of someone with Alzheimer’s also have a higher rate of antidepressant use than other caregivers.
Due to the complexity of caring for a loved one at home, it’s vital that the family creates a support team to help each other through the strain of caregiving.
With the proper support, an otherwise tragic situation can be turned into something that’s healthier and more enriched.
Myth: We Know What Causes Alzheimer’s and How to Treat It
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of speculation and minimal proof on what causes Alzheimer’s disease. And frankly, it’s hard to know which study to believe.
Studies that say a product or lifestyle choice does cause the disease or alleviate the symptoms are often contradicted by another study.
We experience a similar situation when something is identified to have cancer causing carcinogens, but is then countered with a report disputing the finding. As a result, we’re left wondering how to prevent or treat the disease.
Treatments which cure or alter the course of the disease simply don’t exist. Non-pharmaceutical approaches to care are preferred but require special training, patience, and attentive work. As a result, anti-psychotics which are not approved for dementia care are often inappropriately used as a “quick fix.”
Myth: Life is Over when Alzheimer’s Strikes
Alzheimer’s is a terminal disease for which there’s no cure. So getting a diagnosis is a devastating blow.
However, with the proper approach to care, which includes love, compassion, and a focus on the individual and not the disease, people can live a happy and fulfilling life for years.
Families who unite to support one another typically use strategies that empower their loved one to succeed. Accepting the disease and learning to adapt to life’s new challenges, allows them to “live well” with the disease.
Myth: Alzheimer’s Affects Everyone the Same Way
There’s a saying in the Alzheimer’s community that sounds cliché but is spot on: “When you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s, you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s.” We should actually replace the word “person” with “family,” because Alzheimer’s is a family issue.
Due to the complexity of the brain, and how the disease literally destroys it, the disease progresses differently for each individual. For some people, disease progression can be as short as a couple of years, while for others, it can be a decade or longer.
Behaviors and symptoms also vary widely from person to person. They may also vary from day-to-day for the same person, further complicating how the family copes with the disease.
There is still a lot to learn about Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects our families, neighbors, and communities. Until we have clear answers, myths about the disease will continue.
Paying attention, self-educating and listening to those who are coping with the disease is the best way to eliminate these myths.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing lapses in memory, pay attention to the situation when it occurs, and consult a doctor if it’s recurring and impacting day-to-day life.
Are you caring for someone with memory loss or Alzheimer’s? What advice would you give to the other women in our community who may be going through this for the first time? Please join the conversation.