Myths of Dementia
There are many myths surrounding dementia that can obscure our understanding of the issues facing our loved ones who suffer from dementia diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Read on to discover just what is true and what is not!
People with dementia don’t know what they want or can’t communicate what they want
People suffering from dementia usually do know what they want; they just have trouble communicating it properly. Patience is very important when trying to determine the likes and dislikes of the person, as communication becomes so difficult that it is not as straight forward as asking them their feelings. It may be useful to take notes on the behaviour of a person with dementia to help determine the causes of distress or poor behaviour. Notes will allow you to see if there is a pattern to their behaviour.
Dementia is a natural part of aging
Dementia does not necessarily occur when a person ages – it is a medical condition, not inevitable. If it were a natural part of aging then everyone over the age of 65 would have it; however, it is estimated that dementia affects 5% of the population older than 65 with the rates increasing with increased age. Millions of people age into their 80s and 90s without much memory decline.
Once you have dementia there is nothing you can do
Dementia is a progressive disease, meaning it continues to get worse the longer one has it. However, there are steps people can take to slow the progression of dementia and to make life easier for those suffering from it. Using a Montessori approach coupled with appropriate adult Montessori activities are one way to help combat dementia and live a quality life.
Only the elderly get dementia
While dementia is indeed much more common in the elderly, there are also cases where it occurs in younger people, as young as in their 30s. Dementia can occur as a result of brain damage due to a head injury, stroke, alcohol abuse, or brain infection to name a few, causes that aren’t necessarily related to aging. 5-10% of people with Alzheimer’s disease have early-onset Alzheimer’s, which typically develops in a person’s 50s.
People with dementia can’t understand what’s going on
Many people believe that because a person with dementia isn’t communicating that they can’t understand what’s going on around them; however, this is not true. The part of the brain that is responsible for communication is different from the part of the brain that deals with awareness. So while they might have difficulty communicating, they still most likely do have ideas to communicate and can understand the situations they are in.
I should correct what a dementia sufferer says when they are wrong
You may feel compelled to correct things that are said but it really isn’t necessary and can actually be detrimental. Constant correction of a person with dementia can lead them to developing feelings of depression, aggressiveness, or further confusion. By connecting with them on their own level you can encourage some aspects of their mental ability. Even if they mistakenly think they had breakfast with someone that has passed away, encourage them to tell you about the breakfast – what they had, how they enjoyed it, etc. This will ensure upkeep up their socializing skills instead of making them feel bad for being wrong.
There is nothing I can do to lower my risk of dementia
There are many things that have been shown to help decrease your risk of developing dementia, such as exercising often, eating healthy (lots of vegetables and fruit, cutting back on fats), and making use of mental abilities through puzzles, reading, and learning new skills.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are the same things
Dementia is an umbrella term, used to describe a number of diseases that lead to the symptoms of dementia. For instance, when you have Alzheimer’s disease, you develop symptoms of dementia as a result of the disease. Read more about the differences between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
There is a cure for dementia
While there are methods for helping people with dementia cope, there are currently no cures for it. The best that can be done is improvements in quality of life and management of symptoms.
Someone with memory loss must have dementia
Once reaching middle age most people start to have a slight decline in their memory and this is considered a natural part of aging. In order to be diagnosed with dementia one must have multiple symptoms, not just memory loss. We’ve written an article detailing information on memory loss and dementia here.
Dementia is not fatal
Dementia itself is not fatal, but the diseases that cause dementia often are. For instance, Alzheimer’s disease not only hinders a person’s memory, it also causes progressive brain damage that will inevitably lead to the person’s death.
Someone with dementia is incompetent
This all depends on the stage of dementia. Many of those in earlier stages of dementia are perfectly capable of making decisions in many parts of their lives. A careful balance between independence and reliance must be made.
My loved on remembers certain things, so they must not have dementia
Different forms of dementia can affect different aspects of a person’s memory so just because they can remember certain things does not mean that they don’t have dementia.
People with dementia are oblivious to their symptoms
In the early stages of dementia it is common for people to realize that their memory is becoming worse and that they may be having trouble completing certain tasks. It varies from case to case and even with each person it can vary from hour to hour. Depending on the person, it may be okay to help them be aware of their symptoms, but as the dementia progresses it is probably best to not point them out. Awareness of the symptoms declines as the dementia progresses to further stages.
Dementia results in aggression or violence
While it can occur, each person’s experiences with dementia are different and aggression is less common than you might think. Patience, good communication, and keeping notes about the behaviours of a person with dementia can all help reduce the risk of aggression. While a person with dementia can have difficulties communicating, they still send signals as to their current state. Aggression would show that there is something making them uncomfortable and so by exploring the circumstances of their aggression a caregiver can usually determine what’s wrong.