Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of death in the United States and millions of Americans are affected by the disease. It’s important to distinguish the facts from the myths about Alzheimer’s, especially when it comes to finding information online. Here, from the National Institute of Health (www.nia.nih.gov) are ten common myths about Alzheimer’s.

1.    Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are the same thing. Dementia refers to impaired memory, thinking, reasoning and behavior and can be a symptom of many diseases. Alzheimer’s is just one kind of dementia. There are other types of dementia as well, including dementia caused by Lewy-body, frontotemporal malfunction, vascular malfunction and Parkinson’s disease.

2.    I will develop Alzheimer’s disease if my parent has it. While certain people have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s if they have genetic variants passed down from a parent, that is not assurance that they will develop the disease. Alzheimer’s is complex and not yet fully understood. Research suggests that exercise, diet, exposure to pollutants and smoking may also affect a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s.

3.    Only people in their 70s and older get Alzheimer’s. While the greatest known factor for Alzheimer’s is age, that does not mean that only older adults develop it. Some people experience symptoms earlier, even as young as their 30s. This is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s and is rare, representing less than 10% of people diagnosed with the disease.

4.    Alzheimer’s symptoms are normal as we get older. While many people become more forgetful with age, merely losing an item from time to time or occasionally not being able to recall a person’s name is normal. Common signs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias include making poor judgments and decisions a lot of the time, having problems recognizing friends and family, or losing track of the time of day or time of year are not a normal part of aging.

5.    There are no treatments available for people with Alzheimer’s disease. There has been significant progress toward developing better treatments. Several medications are available that can help treat symptoms, and many coping strategies to help manage behavioral problems.

6.    If I’m frequently forgetting things, it must be Alzheimer’s disease. Although memory problems are often a first sign of Alzheimer’s or other dementias, not all memory problems mean a person has dementia. Some forgetfulness is normal as we age. Talk to your doctor to determine whether the memory changes you are noticing are normal or could be the sign of something else including depression and medication side effects.

7.    You can buy supplements online to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease. There are many websites that offer advice on healthy aging and dementia to gain people’s trust. They also use this trust to advertise products that claim to treat or cure Alzheimer’s. There is no scientific evidence that any supplement sold online has been proven to delay, prevent, treat or cure Alzheimer’s.

8.    You can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. There is no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s. There appear, however, to be risk factors that may increase the chance of developing it. While you cannot control the genes you inherit, most risk factors can be controlled. In general, leading a healthy lifestyle may help reduce risk factors that have been associated with Alzheimer’s and other age-related problems. It’s important to control high blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, stay mentally and physically active, preventing head injury, and sleeping seven to nine hours each night.

9.    Doctors cannot diagnose Alzheimer’s disease until after death. Until the early 2000s this was true, but researchers have developed biomarker tests and imaging tests to help a doctor see the biological signs of the disease in a living person. The availability of these tests is still limited, but research is continuing to study options for faster, less expensive and less invasive ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

10.    At at-home genetic test can tell me if I have (or will have) Alzheimer’s disease. At-home genetic tests extract DNA from saliva and provide reports of the genetic data. Ii is important to know that no genetic test can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. They can identify certain genetic variants, but cannot predict that a person will develop the disease.

For more information about how Valley Program for Aging Services serves people living with dementia and their families and caregivers, visit vpas.info/equipped-and-confident or call 800-868-VPAS.

-by Jeri Schaff, former VPAS Executive Director