Dementia Myths – True or False?

Dementia Myths – True or False?


As the average expected lifespan increases, so does the incidence of dementia. According to the NHS, the number of people in the UK with dementia is predicted to rise to around one million by the year 2021. There are many misconceptions surrounding dementia, and these can cause confusion for those who want to better understand the syndrome. This article explores ten common myths pertaining to dementia, in order to separate truth from rumour.

Dementia Is the Same as Alzheimer's Disease

Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of chronic cognitive disorders that have similar symptoms, including memory loss, difficulty in communicating, changes in personality, and impaired judgement and problem solving ability. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, and while there is an obvious relationship between the two, dementia is not necessarily an indication of Alzheimer's disease.

Dementia Is in My Family, so I'm Going to Get It Too

It is thought that genetics are involved in the development of dementia, and several genetic mutations that might increase a person's risk have been identified. However, the presence of these mutations alone is a not a definite sign that a person will develop dementia, and neither is there absence a guarantee of protection.

Having a first degree family member with dementia is believed to have the effect of increasing a person's degree of risk by up to 30 percent, although the risk is significantly reduced if the family member was older than 85 when they became affected by dementia. The strongest risk factor for dementia is age, and it is thought that smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and depression are also associated with the development of dementia symptoms.

I'm Always Forgetting Where I Put Things, It's the Start of Dementia

Increased forgetfulness often accompanies ageing, and a lapse in memory that results in someone losing things or forgetting the names of people does not immediately indicate dementia. Dementia is defined as a decline in cognitive function that is significant to interfere with a person's ability to undertake daily activities. In cases of dementia, the patient is often unaware that their memory has been compromised, and will sometimes deny that there is any problem at all.

Usually, when a person is concerned about memory loss, they are not perturbed about the affect it has on their life, but are worried that they might be heading toward dementia. Forgetfulness can occur for a number of reasons, and there is no correlation between ordinary forgetfulness and dementia. If a person feels uneasy about any aspect of their cognitive function, they should consult their GP who will be able to initiate an appropriate process of assessment.

People with Dementia Think That People from the Past Are Still Present

A reversion to the past is a common manifestation of dementia, and the effects of this can include the belief that people who have passed away are still alive. This can sometimes cause distress for the people involved in supporting the patient, but care health care professionals will usually recommend that relatives and caregivers do not argue with the patient.

It is generally considered that the best approach to dealing with the misplaced beliefs of patients with dementia, is to accept that the patient is momentarily living in a different reality, and understand that attempts to correct or contradict their misunderstandings is only likely to exacerbate their agitation.

People with Dementia Can't Communicate

Language deficits are often associated with dementia, and patients commonly experience difficulty in participating in conversations. However, there is some evidence to suggest that patients with dementia do retain some capacity to communicate, and conversation methods that health care professionals and caregivers can employ, in order to capitalise on any remaining ability, are currently be being researched in the scientific field of speech and language therapy.

Even if the patient is able to hold a conversation, communicating with people with dementia can still be a challenge. Nevertheless, individuals with dementia often do know what they want, and through a careful observation of behaviour patterns, and the maintenance of a patient attitude, it is possible for the caregiver to understand what the patient needs.

Dementia Is Inevitable as We Age

Dementia is most common in people over the age of 65 years, and a person's risk of developing dementia increases as they get older. However, the process of aging alone does not predispose a person to developing dementia, and although there is no sure-fire way of preventing it, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help a person reduce their risk. According to the Alzheimer's society, one in six people over the age of 80 has dementia. This maenad that the majority of will not develop dementia, and millions of people reach their 80s and 90s without any significant memory decline.

People with Dementia Are Aggressive

Dementia affects people in different ways, and not everyone with dementia becomes aggressive. Confusion and frustration that stem from the inability to effectively communicate or process information, can lead to agitation, and very often aggression is a sign that the person with dementia is experiencing some type of discomfort.

Through gaining an understanding of the symptoms of dementia, and exploring the circumstances that surround each episode of aggressive behaviour, the caregiver will be able to learn how to read the signals of what the patient is trying to communicate. They will then be better equipped to determine what is wrong and will be more aware of how to respond to early signs of aggression, so that the situation does not escalate.

Red Wine Protects Against Dementia

Several epidemiological studies suggest that a moderate consumption of red wine is associated with a lower incidence of dementia. The alleged neuroprotective properties of red wine are attributed to the presence of a polyphenol compound known as resveratrol.

However, the evidence supporting the beneficial properties of red wine has been met with some scepticism, and some scientists claim that it would be impossible to drink enough wine to provide the amount of resveratrol required for a protective effect. It is also worth noting that people who drink above the recommended limits of alcohol consumption are at an increased risk of dementia, and a very high intake of alcohol over a long period can lead to brain damage.

Aluminium Exposure Causes Dementia

Aluminium is a toxic metal that is present in the environment, and everyday people are exposed to harmless amounts of aluminium through the minute levels found in the food and water supply.

A number of years ago it was suggested that aluminium exposure from sources such as cooking utensils and drinks cans could cause dementia. It is believed that this myth arose after dialysis patients developed dementia as a result of aluminium contamination.

The link between aluminium and dementia has subsequently been thoroughly investigated. Many metals, including aluminium, are naturally present in the brain, and there is evidence that levels of these metals are elevated in certain neurodegenerative disorders. Thus far, research has failed to produce any conclusive evidence to support the notion that aluminium exposure is in any way related to the risk of developing dementia. However, research into the relationship between aluminium and dementia is ongoing.

Concussion Causes Dementia in Later Life

Media coverage about the rates of dementia seen in former contact-sport athletes has nurtured the myth that concussion in earlier life can lead to dementia later in old age. Evidence is emerging that this observation is likely to be more than speculation, and recurrent mild traumatic brain injuries are now regarded as an independent risk factor for the development of dementia in later life.

The observation that concussions suffered by young athletes have the potential to affect their risk of developing dementia later on, highlights the importance of ensuring adequate recovery from individual episodes of concussion and reinforces the need for stringent regulation in contact sports.


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