According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 47.5 million people around the globe have dementia and each year 7.7 million new cases are diagnosed. Director of the Dementia Clinic at Tufts Medical Center, neurologist Tinatin Chabrashvili, MD, dispels some of the common myths about the disease.
MYTH: Dementia is a normal part of aging
FACT: Although it is common in very elderly individuals, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. It’s a term that describes a range of symptoms associated with a gradual loss of thinking skills affecting memory, problem solving, language and communication, emotional function and behavior, that can be severe enough to affect a person’s everyday activities.
MYTH: Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are the same thing
FACT: While Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia in those over the age of 65, there are a number of illnesses that cause brain changes that can lead to dementia. In fact, 20-40 percent of people with dementia do not have Alzheimer’s disease, and some dementia is associated with more than one illness in some people. Strokes, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Fronto-Temporal Dementia, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, traumatic or chronic head injury, HIV as well as thyroid problems or vitamin deficiencies, alcohol use and brain tumors can also cause dementia.
MYTH: The major symptom for people with dementia is forgetfulness
FACT: While memory loss may be a noticeable symptom early on, dementia can produce many other thinking symptoms. Slow thinking, difficulty with problem solving, loss of language and communication skills, and confusion along with irritability, anxiety, and unsteadiness of walking or moving may also be signs of dementia.
MYTH: There are no good ways to manage dementia
FACT: Some causes of dementia are reversible with the right treatments. For example, a condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus can be helped by draining excess cerebrospinal fluid from the brain. Medications, vitamin B12 or thiamine supplements (when a deficiency is identified) and surgery (for issues such as a brain tumor) also can treat some people dementia. Treatment aimed at other causes of dementia, like stroke, can slow or halt its progression. Despite much study, however, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.
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