It’s estimated that dementia affects around 55.2 million people globally. East Asia has the highest population of people living with a type of illness, followed by Western Europe, South Asia, and North America. To drill down further, approximately 5.8 million Americans and 747,000 Canadians live with dementia today.
While dementia is regularly discussed in the public forum, it’s often deeply misunderstood. As researchers advance to understand the illness better and work on formulating a cure, core misinterpretations continue among non-professionals and the media.
It’s essential to discredit these misunderstandings to make people more aware of dementia as ‘fact’ versus ‘fiction.’ This is not only for their health but so that they can effectively support others around them.
Here are some often-heard misconceptions about the illness.
Myth #1: Dementia is Genetic
While there are some correlations between dementia and genetics, for the most part, we do not inherit most types of dementia from our grandparents and parents.
The Centre for Addition and Health (CAMH) in Toronto — the largest facility in Canada for research into mental health and addiction — notes some of the contributing factors of developing dementia, including:
- delirium or depression, which presents later in life;
- neurological illnesses like Parkinson’s;
- a history of heart disease; and
- a history of cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, obesity, living a sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, and a history of smoking. Research by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) found that smoking increases their risk by 45%.
Myth #2: People with Dementia Are Uncommunicative
One common misconception is that people with dementia are un- or non-communicative and are resigned to a bed in an assisted living facility. Dementia advances differently for everyone. Many people have lived independently in their own homes for many years.
As per CAMH, help from local dementia care experts in Toronto will be required as and when the condition worsens. Trained caregivers can help in the early stages to navigate day-to-day activities when needed. Then, care can transition to in-home, around-the-clock assistance as the illness progresses — meaning the person can age in place in the comfortable, familiar surroundings of a family home.
Myth #3: Memory Loss Is the First Sign of Dementia
While yes, this is generally accurate for some people living with Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss isn’t always the first sign of the disease. Some people with Alzheimer’s can experience different symptoms in the early days, such as challenges completing everyday tasks and finding words.
Other types of dementia, like Lewy Body dementia, can present initially as visual hallucinations, the inability to concentrate, and mood changes. In the case of Vascular dementia, people may struggle to make decisions and plan and organize.
Myth #4: Memory Loss Means You Have Dementia
As we age, it can be too easy to leap to conclusions concerning our health. If we experience minor bouts of forgetfulness or we feel less mentally agile than we once were, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we have dementia. Age-related absentmindedness can often be the cause.
If memory loss is increasing in frequency, speak with a family doctor to ascertain the root of the issue.
Dementia is an understandable concern for people as they age. It’s essential to remember misconceptions that may cause undue concern and an unfair stigma.
As researchers work to develop a cure for dementia and understand the illness better, we know that we can reduce the risk of developing dementia through daily activity, a healthy diet, brain training, cutting back on alcohol and smoking, and taking steps to minimize stress and anxiety.