Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Healthy Habits: Misconceptions Around Alzheimer's and Dementia

 When it comes to our families and diseases, they tend to be two topics that we rarely want to discuss together. However, we owe it to ourselves and to our family members to educate ourselves on ALL natural bodily processes, even those that scare us. 

Lisa Skinner, behavioral expert in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, highlights the importance of educating ourselves on the topic of Alzheimer’s and Dementia sooner rather than later.

“More people than not actually believe that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are two completely different diseases; however, they are not. Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disease that causes dementia and is the one that we are most familiar with. There are over seventy brain diseases that also cause dementia, such as Lewy Body disease, Frontotemporal Lobe disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, to name a few. Therefore, dementia is used as a broad, or umbrella term to describe the symptoms of these brain diseases that involve memory loss and cognitive decline. It is not a separate illness. The term dementia is referring to any of the symptoms that are associated with brain disease, and the symptoms vary from person to person, and stage to stage in the progression of the disease. Not everyone who suffers from dementia displays the exact same symptomatology as another.”

Most of us know what Alzheimer’s is and some of us have even taken care of a family member with the disease. However, we still might have questions revolving around it. What are some common misconceptions about Alzheimer’s that we should know?

“Alzheimer’s disease is the number one most common brain disease that causes dementia. Over six million Americans are currently suffering from it, and that number, according to the Alzheimer’s association, is expected to grow to over thirteen million by the year 2025, if a cure is not found. fIt’s a degenerative, progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions by attacking brain cell connections and brain cells, causing them to degenerate and die. The hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease are amyloid plaques and tangled bundles of fibers, called tau, that form in the brain. Another feature is the loss of connections between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. As neurons die, additional parts of the brain are affected. By the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the damage is widespread, and the brain tissue has shrunk significantly, leaving a person unable to perform even the most basic tasks of daily living, and unable to communicate their needs. They will eventually require full care. There are many similarities in the symptoms that are associated with brain diseases; although, different brain diseases affect different areas of the brain. The symptoms can look the same, or similar, and are referred to as dementia. It is also not uncommon for a person to have what’s called mixed dementia, where they are suffering from more than one type of brain disease that’s causing the dementia.”

With the years of behavioral experience that Lisa has, she has compiled a list of the common misconceptions of dementia

Myth #1: Dementia only causes memory loss and confusion.
The truth is that dementia impacts many other cognitive functions of the brain, and not just memory and clarity. Dementia can have a greater impact than people realize.

Myth #2: Memory loss happens as you age. 
Dementia is not an inevitable part of aging. Mental health and brain health depend on how well you take care of your body as you age. Getting older does not mean you will get dementia.

Myth #3: Dementia is hereditary. 
This is not necessarily true, but it can be a risk factor. How you care for yourself will have a much greater impact than genetics on dementia.

Myth #4: A dementia diagnosis signals the end of a meaningful life. 
This is not true. People diagnosed with dementia can lead very happy, fulfilled, meaningful lives.

Myth #5 : All people with dementia become aggressive.
This is not true. Although aggression can be a common behavior associated with dementia, not everyone who has dementia becomes aggressive. It is typically their way of communicating that something is wrong, like they are in pain or they are not being understood. Other people who suffer from dementia may communicate their wants and needs in other ways if they can no longer verbalize them. 

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