Saturday, September 12, 2009

17 Myths and Facts about Alzheimer's Disease

According to the Alzheimer's Association, about 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease today -- a figure that's expected to increase as the baby boom generation ages. The disorder causes neurons, or cells in the brain, to malfunction and die. The onset of Alzheimer's usually happens after the age of 60, but early-onset Alzheimer's can affect younger people. Though scientists have learned much about the illness in the last decade, many questions remain about the causes, stages, and treatment of Alzheimer's. It's not surprising, then, that patients' and caregivers' understanding of the disease is often off-target. Myths and half-truths only add to fear of the disease, which can prevent people from getting help that could improve their quality of life.
Here are 17 common myths about Alzheimer's -- busted.

Myth: If you're forgetful, you're getting Alzheimer's disease.
Reality: Memory loss is a key symptom of Alzheimer's, but forgetfulness doesn't mean you have the disease. Even if your forgetfulness is due to more than simple aging, there are still many causes for dementia that lead to a decrease in cognitive function; physicians will make an Alzheimer's diagnosis only after other conditions have been ruled out.

Myth: Memory loss is a natural part of aging.
Reality: In the past people believed memory loss was a normal part of aging, often regarding even Alzheimer’s as natural age-related decline. Experts now recognize severe memory loss as a symptom of serious illness. Whether memory naturally declines to some extent remains an open question. Many people feel that their memory becomes less sharp as they grow older, but determining whether there is any scientific basis for this belief is a research challenge still being addressed.

Myth: Most people with Alzheimer’s are oblivious to their symptoms.
Reality: Typically someone in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease does realize, at least part of the time, that something’s wrong. (Whether they recognize it as Alzheimer’s is another matter.) Most people with the disorder are aware that they’re experiencing memory lapses, for example, or that they’re starting to have trouble doing certain familiar tasks (following a favorite card game, cooking a particular recipe). Insight varies by individual, and the degree of awareness can shift from day to day.

Depending on their level of awareness and attitude toward correction, people with Alzheimer’s may appreciate being gently told when they make a mistake due to memory loss, disorientation, or another disease symptom. On the other hand, self-awareness of symptoms can make someone frustrated, angry, scared, or socially withdrawn. As the disease progresses and symptoms worsen, awareness of the situation is likely to decline.

Myth: An x-ray of the brain can diagnose Alzheimer's disease.
Reality: Unfortunately, the brain changes that cause Alzheimer's can not be seen with an x-ray. However, promising new tests using MRI and other imaging techniques are in development. Physical examination is important to rule out other conditions; the disease is then most often diagnosed by a series of tests of mental status.

Myth: If you have a family member with Alzheimer's, you'll get it, too.
Reality: In rare cases, early-onset Alzheimer's is inherited through genes. This familial form of Alzheimer's causes just 7% of all Alzheimer's cases. Genetics plays a small role for those people who don't have this form of Alzheimer's but who do get the disease later in life. If you have a parent, brother or sister with the disease, you have a slightly higher risk of getting it.

Myth: Aluminum in products we use causes Alzheimer's.
Reality: Most of us use products every day that contain aluminum. Food prepared in aluminum pots and pans carries trace amounts of the metal. Many underarm antiperspirants also contain aluminum. There is no scientific evidence that aluminum exposure causes Alzheimer's. Although the disease's exact cause is unknown, most research suggests that several factors, such as age, genetic susceptibility and overall quality of health, ultimately contribute to whether or not someone develops the disease.

Myth: Aspartame causes memory loss.
Reality: This artificial sweetener, marketed under such brand names as Nutrasweet and Equal, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in all foods and beverages in 1996. Since approval, concerns about aspartame's health effects have been raised.  According to the FDA, as of May 2006, the agency had not been presented with any scientific evidence that would lead to change its conclusions on the safety of aspartame for most people. The agency says its conclusions are based on more than 100 laboratory and clinical studies.

Myth: Flu shots increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Reality: A theory linking flu shots to a greatly increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease has been proposed by a U.S. doctor whose license was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners. Several mainstream studies link flu shots and other vaccinations to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and overall better health. 
  • A Nov. 27, 2001, Canadian Medical Journal report suggests older adults who were vaccinated against diphtheria or tetanus, polio, and influenza seemed to have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those not receiving these vaccinations.
  • A report in the Nov. 3, 2004, JAMA found that annual flu shots for older adults were associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes.
Myth: Silver dental fillings increase risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Reality: According to the best available scientific evidence, there is no relationship between silver dental fillings and Alzheimer's. The concern that there could be a link arose because "silver" fillings are made of an amalgam (mixture) that typically contains about 50 percent mercury, 35 percent silver and 15 percent tin. Mercury is a heavy metal that, in certain forms, is known to be toxic to the brain and other organs.
Many scientists consider the studies below compelling evidence that dental amalgam is not a major risk factor for Alzheimer's. Public health agencies, including the FDA, the U.S. Public Health Service and the World Health Organization, endorse the continued use of amalgam as safe, strong, inexpensive material for dental restorations.
  • March 1991, the Dental Devices Panel of the FDA concluded there was no current evidence that amalgam poses any danger.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1991 funded a study at the University of Kentucky to investigate the relationship between amalgam fillings and Alzheimer's. Analysis by University statisticians revealed no significant association between silver fillings and Alzheimer's. 
  • October 30, 2003, a New England Journal of Medicine article concluded that current evidence shows no connection between mercury-containing dental fillings and Alzheimer's or other neurological diseases. 
Myth: All old people have Alzheimer's disease.
Reality: Even though age is an important risk factor for Alzheimer's, the majority of old people do not have the disease. It's important to note that normal aging doesn't necessarily include dementia or Alzheimer's.

Myth: Alzheimer’s disease affects only old people.
Reality: Though the majority of patients with AD are above 65 years old, there are also cases, when the disorder affects people in their 50th or even 40th. That is why it is important to understand that the symptoms of AD, such as memory problems, are not part of normal aging. The earlier the disorder is detected – the more effective management of it could be.

Myth: Men are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer's than women.
Reality: Alzheimer's disease affects both men and women that is true but it is believed to be more common in women. The reason for this claim is based on the unrelated fact that women live longer than their opposite sex so are more likely to develop the disease at some stage of their life.

Myth: Alzheimer's disease is preventable.
Reality: There is no treatment that can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. There is, however, a growing amount of evidence that lifestyle choices that keep mind and body fit may help reduce the risk. These choices include being physically active; eating healthy foods including fresh fruits, vegetables and fish; keeping your brain challenged; reducing stress, keeping an eye on your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels; avoiding traumatic brain injury; and keeping socially active.

Myth: Alzheimer’s disease can be cured with pills, herbs, or supplements.
Reality: Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Modern pharmaceutical options can only slow down the progression of the disorder. The effect of herbs, such as ginkgo biloba, vitamins E, B and C, as well as folic acid and selenium, on patients with Alzheimer’s disease is also not yet fully understood, and the history of their use for AD treatment contains many controversies and vagueness. There are some evidences of beneficial effect of the said remedies, but it is definitely too early to claim that they are able of curing Alzheimer’s disease.

Myth: Alzheimer’s disease makes people hostile, violent, and aggressive.
Reality: As a matter of fact, Alzheimer’s disease affects different people in different ways. Some patients develop certain changes in their behavioral patterns, like becoming violent or aggressive, and some do not. It is important to understand that the symptoms of AD may be frightening and scary first of all for a patient himself; that is why it is important to educate yourself, as well as a patient, about the disorder, and what to expect from it in order to prevent aggressive responses from a patient. Try to improve his usual surroundings in accordance with his specific demands, do not expose him to stressful events, and make him feel comfortable even with his gradually decreased abilities.

Myth: People with Alzheimer's disease cannot understand what is going on around them.
Reality: Some people with Alzheimer's disease understand what is going on around them; others have difficulty. The disease does affect a person's ability to communicate and make sense of the world around them, although it affects each person differently. When we assume someone does not understand, feelings can be hurt unintentionally. The fact is a person with Alzheimer's disease is still the same person as before and needs to be treated with dignity and respect.

MythLife with Alzheimer's disease isn't worth living.
Reality: There is no single course for Alzheimer's disease, which typically can be a part of a person's life for many years. Memory loss and communication problems can cause frustration and anger. With help, though, a person with Alzheimer's can have a meaningful and productive life. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, several medications have been approved for early- and middle-stage Alzheimer's, including Aricept(donepezil), Exelon (rivastigimine),  Namenda (memantine), and Razadyne (galantamine; formerly Reminyl). A number of other medications can be used to control anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and agitation, any or all of which may accompany the disease.

Sources and Additional Information:
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...