Dis­pelling the most com­mon myths about de­men­tia

Con­di­tion sparks fear or de­nial among older peo­ple and fam­ily, but ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion helps

StarMetro Calgary - - DAILY LIFE - Pro­fes­sor Howard Chertkow Carla K. John­son Myth 4: Alzheimer’s dis­ease is hered­i­tary. Con­tinue read­ing at

Health mis­in­for­ma­tion can leave peo­ple un­nec­es­sar­ily afraid or pes­simistic about ill­nesses, trans­form­ing them into the “wor­ried well.” Or it can feed into de­nial, mak­ing peo­ple un­re­al­is­ti­cally hope­ful about their con­di­tion.

De­men­tia and Alzheimer’s are fer­tile ground for mis­in­for­ma­tion, with much fear and de­nial among older peo­ple and their loved ones. It can be very scary to face a di­ag­no­sis, but ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion really does help. As a cog­ni­tive neu­rol­o­gist, I’d like to cor­rect a few of the most com­mon myths be­cause I have seen first­hand how they can worsen mis­un­der­stand­ings and, ul­ti­mately, anx­i­ety among my pa­tients and their care­givers.

HEALTH New ev­i­dence about a can­cer op­er­a­tion in women finds a higher death rate for the less in­va­sive ver­sion, chal­leng­ing stan­dard prac­tice and the “less is more” ap­proach to treat­ing cer­vi­cal can­cer. The un­ex­pect­tients

Myth 1: Mem­ory loss is a nat­u­ral part of ag­ing

There are some mem­ory changes that are con­sid­ered a nor­mal part of ag­ing, but the tricky part is de­cid­ing when the mem­ory loss is ab­nor­mal. At the very early stages of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, a per­son could have slight changes to their mem­ory that are im­per­cep­ti­ble to any­one else.

My ad­vice: Don’t sim­ply write off sig­nif­i­cant mem­ory loss as an in­evitable part of ag­ing. It could be the be­gin­nings of de­men­tia. Re­searchers are de­vel­op­ing drugs or in­ter­ven­tions that can po­ten­tially slow de­men­tia’s on­set. If you or some­one in your fam­ily has sig­nif­i­cant mem­ory loss, get as­sessed by a doc­tor.

Myth 2: Only older adults can get Alzheimer’s dis­ease

With ev­ery decade of life, the risk of Alzheimer’s dis­ease does go up. For ex­am­ple, when a per­son is in their 80s, they have a one-in-three

ed find­ings are prompt­ing changes at some hos­pi­tals that per­form rad­i­cal hys­terec­tomies for early stage dis­ease.

The more rig­or­ous of the two stud­ies was con­ducted at more than 30 sites in a dozen coun­tries. It found women who had the less in­va­sive surgery were four times more likely to see their can­cer re­turn com­pared to women who had tra­di­tional surgery. Death from cer­vi­cal can­cer oc­curred in 14 of 319 pa­tients who had min­i­mally in­va­sive surgery and 2 of 312 pa- At the very early stages of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, a per­son could have slight changes to their mem­ory that are im­per­cep­ti­ble to any­one else.

chance of de­vel­op­ing the dis­or­der. How­ever, about 15 per cent of those who get Alzheimer’s are un­der the age of

60; and I’ve seen peo­ple in my clinic who are in their 50s and even in their 40s.

Just be­cause you ex­pe­ri­ence

mem­ory loss that af­fects your day-to-day ac­tiv­i­ties doesn’t mean it’s al­ways Alzheimer’s dis­ease. A doc­tor can in­ves­ti­gate the con­di­tion and see if treat­able causes can be ad­dressed.

Myth 3: Alzheimer’s dis­ease and de­men­tia are the same thing

“De­men­tia” is a clin­i­cal term used by doc­tors af­ter an in­di­vid­ual has been found to have se­vere is­sues with their mem­ory and men­tal func­tions, such as their abil­ity to plan things and find words. It de­scribes a num­ber of symp­toms that im­pact a per­son’s ev­ery­day life. De­men­tia is the re­sult of a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ill­nesses. Alzheimer’s dis­ease is one of the lead­ing causes.

Though it ac­counts for about 50 per cent of de­men­tia cases, there are a num­ber of other dis­tinct brain ill­nesses that lead to de­men­tia. So if you have been given a di­ag­no­sis of “de­men­tia,” this doesn’t mean you have Alzheimer’s.


More deaths seen for less in­va­sive cer­vi­cal can­cer surgery


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