ALZHEIMER’S MYTHS DEBUNKED

Named after German doctor Dr. Alois Alzheimer, Alzheimer’s Disease has become a disease of intrigue and ambiguity among the general population. It is the commonest cause of dementia, which can be loosely described as impaired memory leading to the inability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with everyday functioning. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 10% of all people over the age of 65 and more than 50% of people over 85 have Alzheimer’s disease. In India, >8.8 million people are suffering from dementia, and the major cause is Alzheimer’s disease (a CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Policy Research study). Lack of accurate public knowledge and common myths surrounding the disease are mainly obstructing diagnosis, patient care, and adequate support. It is high time we address those misconceptions about Alzheimer’s as the expected global increase of dementia and AD by 2050 would be a whopping 166% as per the Global Burden and Disease Study with India having the second largest affected population.

Myth 1: Symptoms of Alzheimer’s are part of normal aging

Occasional memory problems are normal with aging. However, in Alzheimer’s disease, there is deposition of abnormal plaques or proteins in brain tissue leading to malfunction and ultimately degeneration of brain cells. This results in difficulty in performing daily tasks and progressive deterioration.

Myth 2: Dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same disease

Alzheimer’s is one of the causes of dementia. In fact, it is the most common cause of dementia (60-70%). However, dementia can also occur due to other reasons like head injury, repeated brain stroke, alcoholism, Parkinson’s disease, drug intoxication, vitamin deficiency, number of chronic infections, liver or kidney failure, genetic/degenerative disorders, brain tumors, etc.

Myth 3: Alzheimer’s means only memory loss

Alzheimer’s disease is not only about forgetting names and events. Although the symptoms may start with simply that with disease progression, it will gradually lead to increased confusion, withdrawal from social interaction, difficulty with language, emotional outbursts, hallucination, delusion, paranoia, anxiety, and many more complications

Myth 4: Alzheimer’s is a disease of developed Western nations

As per WHO, over 60% of dementia and Alzheimer’s cases are from low and middle-income countries. So, there is no reason to justify that myth. In fact, India is going to have a major share of global dementia and AD patients in the next 25 years as per estimation. As our life expectancy increases due to better health care, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is also going to increase as it is primarily a disease of old age.

Myth 5: If my parents, grandparents, uncle, and aunt are having Alzheimer’s, I am also going to develop the disease.

The risk of developing Alzheimer’s is more with a positive family history but there is no certainty in it. Not all patients with Alzheimer’s have any family history. Scientific studies have found some genetic correlation in many patients, but definite causation is yet to be discovered.

Myth 6: If I am forgetting things, I am having Alzheimer’s

Forgetfulness may be simply due to stress, vitamin deficiency, hormonal imbalance, chronic infection, and many other treatable causes. Please consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis

Myth 7: Flu vaccines can cause Alzheimer’s

Extensive studies have proven this myth to be completely false. Flu vaccines save thousands of lives every year and improve life expectancy, especially among the elderly population

Myth 8: Aluminium utensils can cause Alzhemimer’s

Research showed the presence of an increased amount of aluminum in the brain tissue of deceased Alzheimer’s patients, but a direct link between Aluminium and Alzheimer’s and the mechanism of disease causation has not yet been discovered.

Myth 9: Artificially sweetened drinks can cause Alzheimer’s

Although a direct link is yet to be found, artificially sweetened drinks for sure increase the risk of having brain stroke and thereby having more chance of developing dementia.

Myth 10: You can prevent Alzheimer’s disease with supplements

There are no scientifically proven drugs or supplements available to prevent, delay treat, or cure Alzheimer’s. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle by controlling high blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, staying mentally and physically active, and sleeping 7-9 hours every night will help reduce the risk.

  • Dr Moumita Misra, Head- Lab Operations (Mumbai), Metropolis Healthcare

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