Dispelling 7 Myths of Dementia

By Elaine Abrams, MPH, RN, CHES



There are many myths that can obscure our understanding of the issues facing our loved ones who suffer from dementia diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Here are a few to ponder…



Dementia is a normal occurrence in aging.

FACT: Dementia is a degenerative brain disease that mainly affects older adults, and is not a normal part of aging. If it were true, then everyone over the age of 65 would have it. Many adults advance into their 80’s and 90’s without much memory decline.



Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that is inherited.

FACT: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. While genetics are cited in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, it is likely that it is only one factor that plays a role. Lifestyle and environmental factors also contribute to development of the disease. There does seem to be a strong genetic link with “younger onset” Alzheimer’s disease (those who develop the disease before age 60). Only about 5 percent of all adults with Alzheimer’s disease have younger onset.



There is nothing I can do to lower my risk of dementia.

FACT: While research is still looking at lifestyle and the risk of developing dementia, it seems that regular exercise and healthy nutrition lower the odds. Essentially what is good for the heart is good for the brain. In addition, staying socially active and engaging in “brain fitness,” such as completing crossword puzzles, Tai Chi, reading, and learning new skills, may be important in reducing the risk or at least delaying the onset of dementia.


MYTH # 4

Once you have dementia there is nothing you can do.

FACT: Dementia is a progressive disease, meaning it continues to get worse the longer one has it. However, every person’s experience with dementia is different and it is very important to be accurately assessed by a medical professional early in the course of the disease. There are treatments, if started early, that help with some of the more troubling symptoms of dementia.



People with dementia don’t know what they want, or cannot communicate what they want.

FACT: Adults living with dementia usually DO know what they want, however, the region of the brain that regulates communication, including language, can be affected by the disease. Therefore, patience becomes very important when helping adults living with dementia.



I should correct someone with dementia when they say something that can’t be true.

FACT: Research indicates that constant correction of an adults living with dementia can lead to depression, aggressiveness, or further confusion. Research has shown that validation therapy (acceptance of the reality and personal truth of another’s experience) is more effective in maintaining positive emotions. Validation therapy uses communication strategies to encourage people with dementia by accepting their reality. For example, if an adult living with dementia states that they had breakfast with someone that has passed away, you may wish to encourage them to tell you about the breakfast – what they had, how they enjoyed it, etc.



People with dementia can’t function, can’t have a quality of life, and can’t enjoy activities.

Because Alzheimer’s disease progresses slowly, adults living with the disease can still live meaningful, active lives. Unfortunately, many people with the disease suffer more from the stigma associated with having Alzheimer’s, than the actual disease itself. Adults in the earlier stages often benefit from community-based support groups and social engagement programs, such as Memory Cafes, that bring together those likely affected in a non-judgmental, relaxed setting.


About Dementia Care at Hebrew SeniorLife
Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston offers testing for memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease for patients in the Greater Boston area. Our clinicians can help determine if a patient’s memory loss is part of the aging process, medications being taken, or a sign of dementia. For those living with a memory disorder in need of long-term care, Memory Care located within Hebrew Rehabilitation Center at our Roslindale and Dedham locations, and our Memory Care Assisted Living at NewBridge on the Charles take a holistic approach to managing care for residents with Alzheimer’s and other dementias while preserving independence and functional ability. Therapeutic programs focus on residents’ medical, physical, social, cultural, emotional, behavioral and spiritual needs in a compassionate, supportive and structured environment.