Dispelling the Myths of Alzheimer’s Disease
By Christopher Stibbards
Dementia is something that affects 1 in 6 of over 80s in the UK and as such I felt it was high time to dispel the myths surrounding it. To add in my research about Dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s Disease, I spoke with Judy Ayris, Dementia Outreach Manager at Age UK Canterbury who works closely with people living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease as well as with their families and friends. She, along with many others who work alongside people affected by dementia hope by their own attitudes and behaviour, to dispel some of the myths perpetuated about the condition and help to create a more dementia friendly community.
Alzheimer's Disease| image courtesy of alzheimers.org.uk branded social media images
Myth #1: Alzheimer’s Disease is the same as other forms of dementia.
There are numerous forms of Dementia – Alzheimer’s disease just one of them – though by far the most common, making up approximately 66% of all cases of diagnosed dementia in the UK. Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include memory loss, confusion, spatial awareness problems and emotional processing difficulties. Alzheimer’s disease is marked by a steadier progression of symptoms, whereas other forms of dementia can behave differently, such as vascular dementia which is characterised by sharper intervals with sudden changes in behaviour or memory function.
Myth #2: Alzheimer’s Disease is a disease that affects older people.
Whilst age is the biggest risk factor associated with the condition, Alzheimer’s disease manifests itself in two different forms, young-onset and late-onset. Whilst the late-onset disease tends to occur in the older population (65+), the young-onset condition, which is much rarer, and responsible for around 5% of cases, can occur at a much younger age.
Myth #3: My grandparents/parents have the disease, which means I will get it when I’m older.
Most research points towards a gene known to scientists as the APoE4 being responsible for an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s but it does not mean that you are guaranteed to have the condition, should you inherit this gene.
Familial Alzheimer’s, an early-onset condition (typically under 65), accounts for only 1-5% of cases, but there is a 50% chance that the genes that are responsible for expressing this early-onset condition will be inherited by the following generation. This means if your parents are diagnosed, you have a 50% risk, however, if your grandparents have the disease, but your parents do not, you are extremely unlikely to develop this condition.
Myth #4: I need to behave differently when talking to somebody with Alzheimer’s disease.
Often people feel as though they need to alter their speech or speak in a different way when talking to somebody with Alzheimer’s disease, but this isn’t the case. Often people assume that people living with dementia will have a uniform set of behaviours and respond accordingly, but the popular phrase ‘when you have met one person with dementia, you have met one person with dementia’ holds true. It is important to treat a person living with dementia as a person first and foremost and the condition should always be secondary. There is no need to be condescending with language or to raise your voice. Dementia rarely affects people’s ability to hear, but they may be confused about what you are saying or may have difficulty processing speech quickly.
Myth #5: Once you have Alzheimer’s Disease, life can only go downhill.
Currently, once you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the condition is permanent. However, Alzheimer’s disease is wrongly associated with an immediate reduced quality of life. In fact, maintaining a high quality of social interaction and mental stimulation has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of slowing disease progression. Research from University College London in Cognitive Stimulation Therapy has repeatedly demonstrated the effectiveness of themed activities, social engagement and cognitive stimulation across 29 countries, with results comparable to the best medication currently available.
There is still a great deal of research to be undertaken to truly understand the causes behind Alzheimer’s disease, to find out about the current state of research,
visit the Alzheimer’s Society website: www.alzheimers.org.uk