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  • Cameron Oglesby

Don’t fall victim to these 7 myths about dementia.

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

A 2020 report from the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care (UK) says that between now and 2050, the number of people living with dementia will more than triple, from 50 to 152 million worldwide.

In a way, that’s good news. Dementia is mainly a disease of old age, and the main cause of the increase is that more people are living longer. But old age isn’t the only cause, which brings us to our first dementia myth.

Myth #1: Only old people get dementia. There are different forms of dementia, which can strike at different ages. People with one form, called young-onset Alzheimer’s, can develop symptoms in their late 50s. Another, frontotemporal dementia, can strike as early as age 40. Myth #2: Dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same thing. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, it’s far from the only one. There’s also frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, mixed dementia, and a number of dementia-linked disorders.

Myth #3: Memory loss inevitably leads to dementia. Forgetting things as we grow older is natural; how well do you remember your high-school trigonometry? As the Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat newsletter notes, “[M]emory has a use-it-or-lose-it quality: memories that are called up and used frequently are least likely to be forgotten…[B]rain scientists regard it as useful because it clears the brain of unused memories, making way for newer, more useful ones.”

There are seven different types of normal memory problems, and only about 10 to 15 percent of the time do they grow into dementia – daily memory loss that impairs your ability to function independently, like cooking or balancing your checkbook.

Myth #4: People with dementia can’t learn new things. There are thinking and learning skills that dementia doesn’t shut down: muscle memory can preserve old physical skills, such as riding a bike, and help you learn new ones (such as painting, dancing, trying new exercises), while procedural memory can help you learn new mental ones. Education is a factor in delaying the onset of dementia and slowing its progression.

Myth #5: Dementia robs you of the ability to enjoy yourself. Mayo Clinic behavioral neurologist Dr. Jonathan Graff-Radford notes that, “We always ask patients, ‘What are the things that bring you joy?’ It’s critical to try to enjoy your usual activities, realizing you may need to make modifications.” Modifications like taking photos on your phone to remember plantings if you’re a gardener, or having someone else keep score when you play bridge.

Myth #6: Dementia makes you more aggressive. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. “Everyone’s journey is very different,” says Dr. Graff-Radford, “with symptoms that depend on them as individuals, on the setting they’re in, and on the anatomy of the disease.”

Myth #7: You can’t do anything about it, so why even bother finding out? Actually, you can do something about it. You can slow the progression with medications and other current therapies. You can treat coexisting conditions, from vitamin deficiencies to sleep apnea, which can make dementia worse. Most important of all, in the early stages, while cognitive changes are still mild, you can make plans and choices – about how you want to live the rest of your life and where you want to live it.

The key word here is you. Just as every case of dementia is different, so is every human being, regardless of cognitive ability. That’s why, instead of offering a standard menu of one-size-fits-all services, we conduct our thorough three-part needs assessment, involving you, your spouse, and your family. Based on what we learn, we design a coordinated care plan reflecting your plans, your choices, and your decisions, in accordance with your preferences and values, So please contact us to keep living your life on your terms.

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