8 Shocking Medical Myths About Dementia

Dementia is a term that broadly describes a range of conditions characterized by cognitive impairment. It affects millions of people worldwide, making it a significant public health issue.

Despite this, misinformation about dementia is widespread, leading to misunderstanding, stigma, and potentially harmful practices.

Myth #1: Dementia is a Normal Part of Aging

Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. It’s natural for memory to decline somewhat as we age — for example, occasionally misplacing keys or forgetting someone’s name is not necessarily a cause for alarm.

Dementia goes beyond these mild memory lapses. It’s characterized by significant cognitive impairments that interfere with daily responsibilities and drastically affect the quality of life.

While it’s true that older people are more likely to develop dementia, it’s not an inevitability. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, which can occur due to various diseases like Alzheimer’s or stroke.

Myth #2: Dementia Solely Affects Memory

Dementia affects more than just memory. It can also impact language skills, and problem-solving abilities, and even change a person’s behavior or personality. Symptoms can vary widely depending on the area of the brain that’s affected.

Myth #3: Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia are the Same

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia, but not all dementia is Alzheimer’s. There are several other types, including vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia, each with different causes and symptoms.

Myth #4: Dementia is Inevitable if a Parent Had It

While some types of dementia have a hereditary component, it does not mean that dementia is inevitable if a parent or grandparent had it. Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and maintaining good cardiovascular health can play a crucial role in prevention.

Myth #5: Only Elderly People Can Get Dementia

Although the risk for dementia increases with age, it is not exclusive to the elderly. Younger-onset dementia (also known as early-onset dementia) can affect people in their 40s, 50s, or 60s.

Myth #6: Dementia Symptoms are Immediately Obvious

Dementia often starts with subtle symptoms that can be easy to miss. Early signs might include slight forgetfulness, difficulty finding the right words, or changes in mood. Because these changes can be so subtle, they’re often dismissed as normal signs of aging.

Myth #7: There’s Nothing You Can Do to Lower Your Risk of Dementia

Research suggests that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk of developing dementia. This includes regular physical activity, a diet that includes lots of plant-based foods, avoiding alcohol consumption, not smoking, and maintaining good mental health and social connections.

Myth #8: Dementia Patients Don’t Understand What’s Happening Around Them

While dementia can affect comprehension and communication, it’s incorrect and unfair to assume that someone with dementia doesn’t understand what’s happening around them. Many people with dementia continue to experience emotions and can often understand more than they can express.

Demystifying dementia is an essential step towards reducing stigma, improving patient care, and empowering those affected to live as well as possible. The more we know about dementia, the better equipped we are to support those living with it and work toward potential treatments and preventions.