Latimer: Misconceptions about dementia

Many common assumptions about dementia are based on incorrect or misleading information.

Paul Latimer

Dementia is a term most people have heard and it conjures up some specific images and impressions for a lot of us.

Unfortunately, a lot of the common assumptions about dementia are based on incorrect information and can stigmatize people living with it.

Here are a few of the most common misconceptions about dementia:

1. A diagnosis of dementia means life is over.

Sounds dramatic and it is. Dementia is typically a progressive condition. It starts out with fairly benign symptoms such as forgetfulness and tends to get gradually more pronounced over time. Many people receiving a dementia diagnosis have years to continue functioning and contributing much to the world.

Unfortunately, stigma about the condition can lead to people delaying professional help even though timely help could help to prolong the amount of time a person can remain independent.

2. Dementia only affects the elderly.

It is true that dementia is more likely to affect individuals over age 65, but it is not unheard of for people in their 40s and 50s to be diagnosed.

As our screening becomes more precise, we are identifying dementia earlier, which gives people more time to adjust to a diagnosis, learn ways to adapt to symptoms and prepare for the future. 3. There’s no way to prevent dementia.

We still have much to learn about why some people develop dementia and others don’t. Certainly, there is a genetic component to the condition, but there are other factors at play as well. Research shows that certain lifestyle choices can lessen the likelihood of developing dementia. Exercise, a healthy diet, and continuing to challenge the brain have all shown some preventive effects related to dementia.

4. Dementia is all about memory loss.

Memory loss is the symptom of dementia that gets the most attention but it is not the only hallmark of the condition. Dementia can also involve changes in personality or behaviour, loss of interest in friends or activities, increased anxiety, agitation or aggression, problems with language, or difficulty with daily tasks.

5. It’s all about genetics.

Many people worry that if a parent or grandparent experienced dementia, it means they likely will as well. In reality, only about five percent of dementia cases are familial.

Lifestyle and environmental factors seem to play a significant role as well and though your risk may be somewhat higher if you have close relatives with dementia, it is certainly not a sure thing.

If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing signs of dementia, don’t be afraid to seek help. Some treatments can make symtpoms more bearable and professionals can give help and guidance on how to remain independent as long as possible.

At Okanagan Clinical Trials, we are currently seeking volunteers for a study examining an investigative medication for Alzheimer’s. To learn if you could qualify to participate, contact our office today.

Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.


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