8 Myths About Dementia Debunked

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As new population projections estimate that there will be more adults over 65 than children in the U.S. by the year 2030, the topic of senior health continues to gain steam. Over 5 million seniors currently have dementia in the U.S. making it a large part of the conversation. Stay informed with this quick guide to debunking common dementia myths.

Dementia

Dementia is a disease.

FALSE. Dementia is a term given to describe a group of symptoms including visual perception impairment, memory loss, trouble with problem-solving and reasoning, personality changes, lack in judgment, inability to focus, and communication and language issues. Dementia may present on its own or result from diseases like Parkinson’s or Huntington’s.

Alzheimer’s and dementia are different.

FALSE. They are not interchangeable terms either, however. Alzheimer’s is actually a form of dementia that accounts for 60 to 80% of dementia cases. Additional types of dementia also include vascular dementia (which often results from a stroke), frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy Bodies.

Dementia is a normal part of aging.

FALSE. While your risk of developing dementia does increase with age, scientists say that dementia is not a side effect of getting older. Dementia results from the damage and death of nerve cells in the brain (neurons). Researchers are not sure why this happens to some older brains, however, factors like diminished blood flow and early cognitive impairment can increase risk.

Dementia is easy to diagnose.

FALSE. There is actually no single test that can diagnose dementia, and for many seniors, “mixed dementia”, or the presence of two or more different types of dementia, can actually complicate the process further. Brain imaging scans, blood tests, and clinical exams all contribute to an evaluation which helps doctors narrow down whether cognitive decline can be linked to dementia or a different underlying cause.

Dementia is wholly genetic.

FALSE. If you are worried that since your grandmother had dementia, you probably will too, researchers say that is not necessarily so. Some forms of dementia, like Huntington’s, are indeed inherited, however, most cases of Alzheimer’s are not. If you have older family members with dementia, you can talk with a specialist about any increased risk you may have and genetic testing available to you.

You can’t die from dementia.

FALSE. Sadly, dementia kills more people than prostate and breast cancer combined every year in the U.S. More recently doctors have been expressing that the clinical course of dementia should be treated more like a terminal illness, even going so far as to call it traumatic and fatal brain failure.

There is nothing you can do to help once you develop dementia.

FALSE. While there is currently no single way to prevent or cure dementia, there are steps seniors can take to slow its progress. Experts recommend routine exercise, regular social interaction, mental stimulation with brain games, and a healthy diet (rich in Omega-3’s); and some doctors may also recommend a drug treatment plan that targets specific symptoms.

Dementia only results in cognitive problems.

While cognition is seriously impacted by dementia, it is not the only brain functioning that changes. Psychological problems including personality and behavior changes, hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, agitation, sundowning, and depression can also result from the onset of dementia.

 

Managing Dementia – Tips for Seniors and Caregivers

When it comes to managing dementia, whether in the early or late stages, a little knowledge can go a long way. If you or someone you care for has dementia, keep these important tips in mind:

Utilize helpful tools – as dementia strips a senior of their ability to manage daily self-care tasks like getting dressed, eating, and bathing, smart tools can help promote continued independence; these include dressing aids, adaptive utensils, reacher grabbers, and adjustable bath and shower chairs.

Prioritize safety – dementia increases safety risks like wandering away and falling. Make safety a number one priority by taking precautions like installing medical alert systems, fall-proofing the home with grab bars and railings, and setting up GPS tracking technology on smartphones.

Keep medicine organized – your doctor may prescribe some medicines to help tackle symptoms associated with dementia including medications to help calm delusions or aggression and aid memory loss and confusion. Medicine adherence is critical to the success of a drug treatment protocol. Use pill organizers and reminder apps to stay on track.

Don’t forget finances – a loss in critical thinking and judgment can make seniors with dementia more prone to falling for scams or having trouble keeping bills and finances in order. Family caregivers will want to offer help that ensures their loved one’s financial security.

Learn strategies for coping – one of the hardest parts of dementia is that it causes a person to not only become confused and disoriented but to feel paranoid, on the defensive and sometimes say hurtful things. Caregivers are best served by learning strategies to help redirect loved ones when they are confused, find the underlying causes of verbal aggression, and offer help in a way their loved one can handle.

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