7 Alzheimer's disease myths and facts
Anyone who has a loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease is very much aware of the disease and its challenges, but there are still several misconceptions about Alzheimer’s symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments.
Knowing more about Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and research helps empower the Alzheimer’s community and encourages support for new research. You can help the community by learning more about the disease and helping share these seven Alzheimer's myths and facts.
7 Alzheimer’s disease myths and facts
Myth: There is no promising Alzheimer’s research.
Fact: Alzheimer’s research has been frustratingly slow for everyone living with the disease and their families. With the failure of a few drug trials for Alzheimer’s in recent years, it’s understandable to feel discouraged. On June 7, 2021, there was a breakthrough: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Aduhelm (aducanumab) for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. It was approved using the accelerated approval pathway, which can be used for a drug for a serious or life-threatening illness that provides a meaningful therapeutic advantage over existing treatments. The decision, however, has been met with a heavy degree of controversy, with experts weighing in that the treatment has little evidence it helps patients.
With plenty of research still underway, our understanding of Alzheimer’s has also grown, and studies are exploring new approaches, such as the role the brain’s immune cells may play.
Myth: Researchers know what causes Alzheimer’s.
Fact: The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown. Like other neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, researchers believe Alzheimer’s is caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors. The biggest risk factors are older age, having a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, and having the APOE-e4 gene.
Myth: Memory loss is the only Alzheimer’s symptom.
Fact: Though memory loss is the most recognizable symptom of Alzheimer’s, other symptoms include challenges in planning or solving problems, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding the relationship between space and objects, problems with writing and speaking, losing the ability to retrace steps, misplacing things, poor judgment, withdrawal from social activities, and general changes in mood, personality, and behavior.
Myth: Alzheimer’s is a normal part of aging.
Fact: Though the mind can become less sharp over time, the memory symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease are not a normal part of aging. For example, sometimes not being able to remember the name of an acquaintance can be a part of normal aging. Not remembering the name of a family member, however, is a symptom of Alzheimer’s.
Myth: Only people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can participate in clinical trials.
Fact: Today, more trials are looking to explore the safety and effectiveness of potential treatments on people who have not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but who show early memory loss symptoms or experience mild cognitive impairment. Trials also need healthy volunteers to take part.
Myth: Alzheimer’s and dementia are the same diseases.
Fact: While Alzheimer’s and dementia are sometimes used interchangeably, dementia is a general term for memory loss symptoms, rather than the disease itself. Dementia can also be a part of other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
Myth: Only older people get Alzheimer’s.
Fact: Most people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in their eighties, but 5-6% of people with Alzheimer’s are diagnosed before age 65. People who develop Alzheimer’s from these rare genes are said to have “familial Alzheimer’s disease.” Researchers don’t know what causes most of these early diagnoses, but scientists have linked “Young-onset Alzheimer’s” to three genes — the APP, PSEN 1, and PSEN 2 — that differ from the APOE gene that can increase your risk of Alzheimer's in general.
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