What Do You Think You Know About Dementia?

Sound Options recently hosted a community-wide training with professional dementia educator Teepa Snow, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA. The Museum of Glass was filled with family caregivers, community members, nurses, social workers, activity directors, and many other eldercare professionals. It was a fabulous day filled with many “Aha Moments” and lots of laughter.

While familiarity with the word “dementia” is increasing in our culture, Teepa talked about the many misconceptions that are still hanging around. Here are 5 misconceptions about dementia and the insights that she shared with us.

Misconceptions About Dementia

No.1 Dementia and Alzheimer’s are the Same Thing

Dementia is actually an umbrella term used to talk about nearly 100 types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is just one type of dementia. As the most common form, it accounts for about 60-80% of cases. Other common forms include Vascular dementia, previously known as post-stoke dementia, dementia with Lewy Bodies, Parkinson’s disease, and Frontotemporal dementia. It is also common for an individual to have not just one, but a combination of the different types of dementia.   

No.2 Dementia is a Normal Part of Aging

There is a strong stigma around dementia and Alzheimer’s (often referred to as “old-timers”). It is crucial that we shift our cultural perspective of this disease, and it is a disease. As we age, it is normal to have a reduction in capabilities. We are slower to think and do and may lose the names of people or the words we are looking for; however dementia causes a range of symptoms that are not a normal part of aging.  

No.3 Alzheimer’s is about Memory Problems

Dementia is actually a set of diseases that cause brain failure. The types of disease causes both a chemical change and a structural change in the brain. Different parts of our brain are responsible for different skill sets, for example language, sight, behavior, impulse control, etc. The disease actually causes the brain shrink and cells to atrophy and die.  A variety of symptoms and losses will directly correspond to the affected sections of the brain as they die away. 

No. 4 Only Elderly People Get Alzheimer’s

Early-onset or younger-onset Alzheimer’s is defined as Alzheimer’s that affects people younger than 65. Nearly 4% of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s have younger-onset. Many of these individuals are in their 40s and 50s with families and careers. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is estimated that more than 200,000 have early onset.

No. 5 There is Nothing I Can Do to Reduce My Risk of the Disease

Dementia/ Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and the only one cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed down. While it will not make us immune, there are several lifestyle choices that we can make to reduce our risk of getting the disease later in life. Caregivers of individuals with dementia are actually more likely to get the disease later in life due to the increased stress and strain from the act of caregiving. Regular exercise has the greatest impact in reducing risks for the disease followed by eating a balanced diet that reduces the amount of processed foods we eat. Managing stress and getting help in caregiving situations will also have an enormous impact on your risks in the future and your quality of life now.



Published on February 12, 2014.