Dementia is a general term that refers to a decline in cognitive abilities that is significant enough to interfere with a person’s ability to complete basic day-to-day activities (Activities of Daily Living).
Taking the time to learn a few dementia facts can help you better understand and care for your brain health, all while contributing to global efforts to raise awareness, erode the stigma, and dispel myths about dementia.
Dementia Myth: Dementia is a disease.
Dementia Fact: Dementia is not a disease but rather is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning, thinking, or other cognitive functions severe enough to interfere with daily living. There are several causes of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and mixed dementia, among others. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for approximately 60-80% of all dementia cases.
Dementia Myth: Dementia only affects older individuals.
Dementia Fact: Although the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia is advancing age, dementia can also affect younger individuals. Take Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, for example. While most people living with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 and older (late-onset), 5% to 6% of those with Alzheimer’s are younger than 65 (early-onset). Similarly, approximately 10% to 20% of people with Parkinson’s disease experience symptoms before age 50.
Dementia Myth: Memory loss and dementia are normal parts of aging.
Dementia Fact: While some minor changes to brain structure and function are likely to occur as you age, memory loss and dementia are not normal parts of aging. For example, taking slightly longer to learn new things and occasionally forgetting to pay a bill can be normal parts of aging. On the other hand, struggling to follow instructions, misplacing things often, and repeatedly asking the same question are not normal parts of aging.
Dementia Myth: If a close family member of an individual is living with dementia, that individual will eventually develop dementia.
Dementia Fact: Although some causes of dementia are directly related to genetics, such as familial Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and familial Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, most cases of dementia do not have direct genetic links. Many causes of dementia are multifactorial, meaning they are caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors. For example, only 1% (or less) of Alzheimer’s disease cases are believed to be caused by genetics.
Dementia Myth: Memory loss and other changes in cognitive abilities are always a sign of dementia.
Dementia Fact: Although memory loss and other changes in thinking abilities are core symptoms of dementia, such changes are not always indicative of dementia. Several medical conditions, such as those listed below, can cause changes in memory and thinking—many of which may be reversible with proper treatment:
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