Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Foundation of America

5 Common Misconceptions About Dementia

“I heard someone whisper the other day, ‘My father has Alzheimer’s.’ I just gave him a big hug and said, ‘You don’t have to whisper—shout it out loud,’ said Gary. I am not ashamed of having Alzheimer’s. All my neighbors are aware I have a problem and there’s no ridicule, no stigma, and so I wish we would get it out of our minds that we’ve done something; that we need to go under the table and hide.”

This personal story shared in the new edition of the Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, written by Jonathan Graff-Radford, MD, with Angela Lunde, MA, demonstrates that despite the fact that Alzheimer’s and dementia are more common than ever before, we still have many common misconceptions about them. Here are five of the most common myths and stereotypes followed by the truth, according to the Mayo Clinic:

MYTH #1 Memory loss means dementia

People naturally forget from time to time, but dementia is much more than occasional lapses. It’s memory issues that are affecting daily functioning. Also, memory loss isn’t the first dementia symptom. Unexplained changes in mood, behavior or ability should warrant a visit to the doctor.

MYTH #2 Only older people get dementia

Many types of dementia can affect people at an earlier age. Young-onset Alzheimer’s disease, for example, can affect people in their 50s—and even earlier in some cases—as well as frontotemporal dementia.

MYTH #3 People with dementia become agitated, violent and aggressive

Not all people with dementia become agitated, violent or aggressive—though, of course, some people do. Dementia affects every person differently. Changes in the brain can create confusion and fear, and often expressions such as agitation are really the result of an unmet need.

MYTH #4 People with dementia can’t enjoy new activities, learn new things or have a good quality of life.

People with dementia can and do continue to have meaningful, active lives. It’s important that they try to continue to enjoy their usual activities for as long as they can, making some adaptations, and relying on help from others. Many people in the earlier stages of dementia—and even into the middle stages—can learn new routines and habits. Most importantly, during all stages of dementia, people are capable of giving and receiving love, able to share moments of joy and laughter.

MYTH #5 Nothing can be done for dementia

It’s important to overcome the idea that “nothing can be done for dementia.” The sooner a dementia diagnosis is made, the more opportunity there is for treatments and therapies that may actually slow the progression. Conversations with family and friends should focus on what the person living with dementia is still able to do and what brings them joy, rather than declines and losses. This will help ensure they are able to enjoy the best quality of life possible.

This article originally appeared in Alzheimer’s TODAY, Volume 16, Number 1, published by AFA. View the entire issue here.