Tuesday, December 6th, 2011
by Ellen Woodward Potts
Co-Author, A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver
There are many misconceptions and a great deal of just plain wrong information out there about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. This can cause all kinds of problems for people who have dementia and families dealing with these illnesses. What are some of these myths?
Myth #1: Only old people get dementia. Dementia is defined as having memory issues that affect your ability to function in daily life. It is more common in the elderly, but can happen at any age. Dementia can be caused by things like head injury, alcohol or drug abuse, stroke, brain infections like meningitis, and a host of other causes, with Alzheimer’s disease the most frequent cause. People as young as 30 can have Alzheimer’s disease, although it’s very uncommon.
Myth #2: Nothing can be done for people with dementia, so there is no point in going to the doctor. Many forms of dementia are COMPLETELY curable. It is very important to see a doctor familiar with dementia if you begin having memory issues.
Myth #3: There is no treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. There is no CURE for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications that can slow the progression. These help people remain independent longer, and have a better quality of life for their remaining years.
Myth #4: People with dementia have “checked out,” so there is no point in my visiting them. This is probably the most awful misconception of all. Even people with late stage dementia still have the ability to interact. Sing old familiar songs (especially religious ones, if the person was religious in her youth), read familiar texts in the version the person would have read in her youth, look at familiar objects and talk about them. Using these tools, people with dementia will often “awaken” and interact with you. For an incredible example of this, watch this video by Naomi Feil.
Myth #5: I should correct the person with dementia when he says something wrong. As strange as it may seem, you should NOT correct the person with dementia when he says something wrong. If a person has dementia, he has lost his ability to think clearly and reasonably, whether the cause is temporary or permanent. Constantly correcting the person can lead to depression, combativeness, or further confusion. People with dementia cannot re-enter the real world, so you must go to theirs. If your 90 year old mother with dementia tells you she had breakfast with her grandmother this morning, ask her what they had to eat. Don’t tell your mother her grandmother is dead, which would only lead to grief over a “new” death for your mom.
Myth #6: Yes, he has dementia, but he knows where he is and would never wander away. This is a VERY dangerous myth indeed. If your loved one with dementia can walk, chances are he will wander. In fact, statistics show that 60% of people with Alzheimer’s disease wander. The results can be tragic. The non-profit organization, Project Lifesaver, offers GPS bracelets through the local partners around the country at very low cost. These bracelets save lives. Also, you should employ other wandering precautions like installing keyed deadbolt locks with the key around the caregiver’s neck for fire safety. Remember, just because your loved one has not wandered in the past, does not mean he will not wander in the future!
Myth #7: There is nothing I can do to lower my risk of getting dementia. WRONG! There are several things you can do to lower your risk significantly! Exercising 30 minutes a day lowers your risk of getting dementia over 50%! Eating a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables and low in fat lowers your risk significantly. Another great way to lower your risk is to exercise your brain — crossword and other puzzles, singing or playing an instrument while reading the music, reading, learning new skills. All of these are ways to keep you brain active and healthy.