Dementia has become a prevalent discussion in our country, particularly since more than 419,000 Canadians are currently diagnosed with Dementia and 78,000 new cases are expected each year (According to Canada’s Dementia Strategy). However, there are still so many misconceptions preventing us from fully understanding Dementia and those dealing with it. We have compiled a list of a few misconceptions surrounding Dementia from The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, Golden Carers, and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Misconception: Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are the same thing
We often hear the terms Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease used interchangeably. This probably occurs because Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of Dementia.
Dementia is not a disease but rather a group of symptoms which are present in many diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease. Think of Dementia as the umbrella term referring to symptoms such as memory problems, increased confusion, reduced concentration, and loss of ability to do everyday tasks, where as Alzheimer’s Disease is a disease where those symptoms are present.
You will often hear people separating the two by saying “Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of Dementia”
Misconception: Everyone has the same type of dementia
Symptoms of Dementia are unique to each disease, and unique to each person! The most common types of dementia are:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Vascular dementia
- Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
- Mixed dementia
- Parkinson's disease
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus
- Huntington's disease
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Each of these diagnoses have their own distinct set of needs. This is why it is so important that the way you approach each person is determined on an individual basis.
Misconception: Only elderly people can get Dementia
Many people believe that only “older” people are affected by dementia; however, this is not the case.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, young onset dementia accounts for approximately 2-8% of all dementia cases currently in Canada. They predict that 16,000 Canadians UNDER the age of 65 are currently diagnosed with some form of dementia (a statistic that they expect to increase in the coming years). Being diagnosed in your 40s, 50s, and 60s can present unique challenges like: still working at time of diagnosis, having dependents still at home, having major financial commitments like mortgages, still being physically fit, and many more.
Misconception: All older adults have dementia
The topic of “Old Age” has been historically riddled with its own group of myths and misconceptions, including that all older adults will lose their memory. We have taken the apathetic approach to aging with stereotypical phrases like “I’m having a senior’s moment” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” which have added to the belief the Dementia symptoms are a normal part of aging. While Dementia is a common diagnosis in older adults, it does not mean everyone will (or should) receive a diagnosis! This stereotype actually increases the risk of missing an early diagnosis because people write off symptoms as “old age”.
Misconception: People living with dementia don't understand what's happening around them
Many people with Dementia struggle to communicate effectively, and because of this it is often assumed that they are not aware of what is happening around them. However, because the part of the brain that deals with awareness is separate from the section for communication, many people with Dementia are very aware of their surroundings, if ultimately unable to relay that.
Misconception: People with dementia are like children
Due to the fact that many older adults require help with their Activities of Daily Living, many people equate them with being child-like. Even with similarities in the types of care, older adults with Dementia should not be treated like children! It is important to make sure we are respectful and treat them with dignity, allowing for age-appropriate activity and choices.
Misconception: There are treatments available to stop the progression of Dementia Diseases
There is currently no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease and many other Dementia diseases. FDA-approved drugs temporarily slow worsening of symptoms for about 6 to 12 months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.
- We need to take the time to get to know each individual with Dementia to truly understand how to help them;
- We need to advocate for research, rights and dignity for those individuals; and,
- We need to enjoy the time we have together!
Looking for more in depth understanding on Dementia? The University of Tasmania provides a FREE online class called Understanding Dementia: https://www.utas.edu.au/wicking/understanding-dementia
Read the Dementia Strategy from the Government of Canada which details the plan for the future of Dementia in Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/dementia-strategy.html?mc_cid=cd44dcc0de&mc_eid=129e708736