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.

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An early diagnosis can also enable the person with Alzheimer‘s to take proactive steps to start treatment that could preserve a better degree of function for a longer period of time, and to have a say in future plans, such as living arrangements and financial and legal considerations.

“An evaluation should include a direct assessment of cognitive function, including memory,” says Dr. Ringman. “Brain imaging with CT or MRI and routine blood tests (e.g., testing for thyroid function and vitamin B12 levels) should be performed in all persons verified to have a significant cognitive deficit, however these tests do not confirm the presence of Alzheimer‘s disease, but rather rule out other causes of dementia.”

The hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain, the accumulation of Beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles (insoluble twisted fibers composed largely of the protein that builds up inside nerve cells) can only be confirmed with 100 percent certainty by an autopsy.

“However,” Dr. Ringman says, “recent breakthroughs in our ability to identify Alzheimer’s changes in the brain with nuclear imaging and by studying the fluid that bathes the brain are improving our ability to definitely diagnose the disease during life.”

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Myth: No one knows what causes Alzheimer’s disease.

Fact: Many scientists believe that the Beta-amyloid protein that forms plaques is central to the disease process, and many treatments in development are focused on this.

Other factors that are thought to contribute to development of Alzheimer’s disease include age, serious head injuries, and brain inflammation. Genetics may play an important role, too. People, particularly those with a first degree relative with the disease, can discuss the current availability of genetic testing and its implications with their primary physician or a genetics counselor.

Myth: There is nothing an individual can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Fact: Until the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are fully known, specific activities to prevent the disease will also not be completely clear. Some scientists are researching proactive steps that people can take to promote brain and overall health throughout a lifetime, including exercise, lifelong learning, and dietary considerations.

Myth: The future is bleak for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

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Maureen Pratt
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