Top 5 Alzheimer’s Myths Debunked
Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK and is steadily increasing year on year. There are so many myths surrounding the disease, but the public’s understanding of the true symptoms, the causes of dementia and possible treatment options is poor.
Leading Consultant Neuroradiologist Dr Emer MacSweeney, Founder and CEO of Re:Cognition Health runs five clinics in the UK & USA specialising in the diagnostics and treatment of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions. Below she debunks some of the most common myths about Alzheimer’s:
MYTH NO. 1: Alzheimer’s and dementia are the same thing
REALITY: Dementia is not a diagnosis, but an umbrella term for a level of cognitive impairment, where symptoms have progressed to a level where an individual has lost independence in their activities of daily living. Many conditions can result in this situation. As we grow older Alzheimer’s disease is by far and away the most common cause of dementia. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of cognitive impairment, whether or not these have progressed to the level of dementia, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis, as soon as possible, in order to access the best treatment.
Dr MacSweeney explains: “Dementia is just a symptom, similar to saying you’ve got a headache. There are lots of different causes of headaches such as migraine, dehydration, a brain tumour or a head injury. Similarly, lots of different conditions can cause dementia; as we age, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common but other causes including Parkinson’s disease, cerebrovascular disease and traumatic brain injury. The word dementia is used to describe a level of progressive cognitive impairment, which interferes with an individual’s activities of daily living.”
MYTH NO. 2: Alzheimer’s disease only affects the memory
REALITY: Alzheimer’s disease affects much more than memory – it affects a person’s ability to think logically, solve problems, calculate and affects the sense of direction and spatial awareness. It can also affect their behaviour, making them more prone to mood swings, irritation and aggression, as well as emotional outbursts that can come and go quickly.
Dr MacSweeney explains: ‘Alzheimer’s disease typically affects short term memory and this is often the first symptom; but the disease also affects all other aspects of our cognition or “thinking ability” . The latter includes calculation and planning ability, speech, behaviour, recognizing a familiar environment and executive function such as thought processing, decision making and judgement. Mild symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may just involve difficulty recalling details of recent events or conversations, difficulty following or remembering a conversation. Some people find the first thing they notice is increased difficulty with calculations, financial planning, or finding the right word. As the development of these symptoms is very gradual, the recognition of the problem is frequently, slow.
MYTH NO. 3: Constantly forgetting things means I might have Alzheimer’s disease
REALITY: We all forget things when we are distracted, stressed or have other things on our minds. Small memory lapses are very normal, but we usually remember when prompted. However repeatedly asking the same question, with no recollection of ever asking it, or being unable to recall details of recent events or conversations is usually a cause for concern and may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s, which should be investigated.
Dr MacSweeney: “A person with Alzheimer’s disease will often repeat the same thing to the same person with no recollection of ever saying it. They may have difficulty recalling recent events, even with prompts.”
MYTH NO. 4: Alzheimer’s disease is a normal part of getting older
REALITY: Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of ageing, even though the risk of developing the disease increases with age.
Dr MacSweeney explains: “Age is the biggest single risk factor for Alzheimer’s but it is not a natural part of the ageing process. Just like it’s not normal to get cancer as you get older, but you have a higher risk of developing cancer as you age.
MYTH NO. 5: Medication currently being prescribed to treat Alzheimer’s can ‘slow down’ the progression of the disease.
REALITY: No drug currently available on the market can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s. The medications available manage only the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, whilst the condition is still progressing inside the brain, at an ever-increasing rate. However, there is now a huge focus, globally, in to the development of new-generation medications, designed to slow down, and ultimately halt the progression of Alzheimer’s. These new medications are currently available to the public, through late stage international clinical trials.
Dr MacSweeney explains, “At present, people with Alzheimer’s disease are usually given drugs that treat the symptoms. It’s important to understand that these drugs don’t slow down the progression of the disease – they just help to mask the symptoms, for a period of time. However, the disease continues to progress relentlessly. These medications work by just helping the dying cognitive brain cells to work more efficiently by helping to boost the level of neurotransmitters between the nerve cells. Essentially, these medications increase the efficiency of the brain cells, which is like the effect drinking coffee when you’re tired. It wakes the brain up a bit, but the drugs can’t slow down the underlying disease process, which is killing off the cognitive brain cells, in the first place.”
To find out more about the clinical trials currently available at Re:Cognition Health please contact: