Busting Dementia Myths

September is Dementia Awareness month and ABC radio Gold Coast asked me to dispel the most common myths about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Below is a transcript of our conversation. 

You can also listen to our discussion here. 

MYTH #1: Are dementia and Alzheimer’s disease the same thing?

No they are not the same. Dementia is an umbrella term for about 100 different diseases of the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60-70% of cases of dementia. 

MYTH #2: Is dementia usually hereditary?

No. Most cases of dementia are NOT hereditary but there are some exceptions. Just because your parents had it doesn’t mean you will too.

MYTH #3: Is dementia essentially a disease of older people?

Although it is much more common over the age of 70, certain types of dementia can strike as early as age 40 or 50. These are usually hereditary cases. There are an estimated 27,800 people living with younger onset dementia in Australia. 

MYTH #4: Is the first symptom of Alzheimer’s disease memory loss?

Symptoms vary widely from person to person. 

Memory loss may or may not be an early symptom. 

Other things to look out for include:

  • Apathy and loss of interest in doing things you previously enjoyed
  • Social withdrawal
  • Getting easily confused
  • Reduction in your sense of smell
  • Personality changes
  • Forgetfulness
  • Becoming increasingly gullible 
  • Inability to plan ahead

MYTH #5: There is not much we can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease or any other dementia. 

This is the biggest myth of all! A major review has recently confirmed that HALF of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease could be prevented if we implemented the following 12 risk-reduction strategies:

  1. Don’t smoke
  2. Avoid head injury — wear a helmet if you do anything risky 
  3. Stay socially connected — loneliness is a big risk factor for Alzheimer’s
  4. Keep learning new things and stimulating your mind by doing things you enjoy 
  5. Move for 30 minutes every day — a brisk walk is a great way to start your day
  6. Keep your blood pressure in the healthy range — less than 130 over 80
  7. Keep your waist circumference below 82cm if you’re a woman and below 95cm if you’re a man
  8. Avoid type 2 diabetes
  9. If you have hearing loss, get hearing aids because mid-life hearing loss is a little-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s
  10. If you have chronic depression, do whatever you need to treat it
  11. Keep alcohol to less than one and a half standard drinks a day with at least one alcohol-free day per week 
  12. Get into nature as often as possible to reduce your exposure to air pollution

Please forward this Health-e-Byte to anyone who wants to prevent dementia.

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