Alzheimer's Disease Myths and Facts

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and local and national organizations will be holding events and providing information about the disease and its effect on individuals and society.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and local and national organizations will be holding events and providing information about the disease and its effect on individuals and society.

Space and time do not allow for a completely thorough discussion of all that Alzheimer’s is and means to the person with the disease and to his or her caregivers. Additionally, the information here is not meant to take the place of consulting with a qualified medical professional.

That said, here are some current myths and important facts about Alzheimer’s disease:

Myth: Only old people get Alzheimer’s disease; it’s a normal part of aging.

Fact: The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) says that, although the majority of the estimated 5.4 million people with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States are aged 65 and older, approximately 200,000 under the age of 65 have it. They estimate that by 2050, up to 16 million people will have Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI, www.alz.co.uk) estimates that in 2010, 36 million people were living with dementia worldwide, and that that number will increase to 66 million by 2030.

John M. Ringman, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology, Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research, in Los Angeles, adds, “Alzheimer’s disease can occur in persons in their 30s due to specific genetic mutations, and persons over 100 years of age can have normal cognition. Alzheimer’s should not be considered a ‘normal part of aging.’”

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Myth: Alzheimer’s disease cannot be diagnosed.

Fact: Alzheimer’s disease is “a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes.” (The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, www.alzfdn.org).

Each person with Alzheimer’s disease will experience symptoms and their timing differently, however the progression is usually described in terms of stages, “Early” (or, Mild), “Middle” (or, Moderate), and “Late” (or, Severe). According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “People with Alzheimer’s die an average of four to six years after diagnosis, but the duration of the disease can vary from three to 20 years.”

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be made with up to 90 percent accuracy (www.alzfdn.org). Identifying cognitive issues early (see Beliefnet’s Gallery “10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease) can help physicians diagnose Alzheimer’s and/or differentiate between Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that can cause dementia or cognitive decline, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or side effects from medication.

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Maureen Pratt
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