The number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States is growing rapidly. So, too, are the number of myths surrounding the disease and other forms of dementia. Let’s begin by looking at what we do know about the prevalence of Alzheimer’s before investigating some of the more common myths.
Approximately 5.5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer's disease. Of these, some 5.3 million are 65 years of age or older. In addition:
One in 10 people 65 and over has Alzheimer's disease
Nearly two out of three Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women
African-Americans are approximately twice as likely as older Caucasians to have Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia
Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer's or other dementias as older Caucasians
As the population grows older, the number of new cases of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to soar
Today, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds. By 2050, this figure is likely to increase to one new case every 33 seconds
Now let’s look at some of the most common myths surrounding Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
It is entirely natural to lose one’s memory.
While it is normal to have occasional memory loss as one grows older, Alzheimer's is a disease that causes brain cells to malfunction and ultimately die. When this occurs, a person may forget things as basic as the name of a close, longtime friend or how to return to a home they have resided in for decades. If you or someone you love is experiencing frequent memory lapses or other problems with thinking and learning, contact a physician. Sometimes these problems are caused by side effects to medication, vitamin deficiencies or other conditions that can be reversed with treatment. The Alzheimer's Association has developed information to help you tell the difference between “normal” memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is not fatal.
Sadly, Alzheimer's disease does not leave any survivors. It destroys brain cells and causes changes to memory, behavior and bodily functions. It slowly and painfully robs a person of his or her identity, capacity to connect with others, think, talk, walk, eat and more.
You have to be old to get Alzheimer's disease.
People in their 50s, 40s and even 30s can get Alzheimer's disease. This is known as younger-onset or early-onset Alzheimer's. It is estimated that there are currently more than 200,000 people under the age of 65 with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Cooking with aluminum pots and pans or drinking from aluminum cans may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
This myth began in the 1960s and is still widely held. However, studies have failed to show any connection between Alzheimer’s disease and commonly used items containing aluminum, such as cookware, cans, antiperspirants and antacids.
The artificial sweetener aspartame causes memory loss.
Artificial sweeteners such as NutraSweet and Equal, which contain aspartame, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1996. Since then, people have raised concerns about aspartame’s impact on health. As of 2006, the FDA has not received any scientific evidence that would lead to changing its conclusions about the safety of aspartame for most people. The FDA bases its conclusion on more than 100 clinical and laboratory studies.
Flu shots increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
This theory was proposed by a doctor whose license was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners. In fact, several mainstream studies have linked flu shots and other vaccinations to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and better overall health.
Dental fillings made of silver increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
According to the best available scientific evidence, there is no relationship between silver fillings and the development of Alzheimer's disease. The concern arose initially because silver fillings are comprised of an amalgam (mixture) that generally contains about 50 percent mercury, 35 percent silver and 15 percent tin. Mercury, in certain forms, is known to be toxic to the brain and other organs. However, public health agencies such as the FDA, the U.S. Public Health Service and the World Health Organization endorse the continued use of amalgam as a safe, strong and relatively inexpensive material for dental restorations.
Treatments are available to stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
While the FDA has approved drugs that temporarily slow the worsening of symptoms of Alzheimer’s for about 6 to 12 months in approximately one half of the people who take them, there is currently no treatment available to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease itself. Fortunately, research is ongoing, and on May 5 of this year a $400 million increase in Alzheimer’s research funding was signed into law, increasing federal funding at the National Institutes of Health to nearly $1.4 billion.