More than six million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s, and every 67 seconds, someone in America develops the disease, according to Monica Moreno, senior director of care and support at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago.
Despite the prevalence of this most widespread form of dementia — expected to affect 12.7 million people by 2050 — experts say that many misconceptions remain.
Here are some of the most common myths about Alzheimer’s disease, according to dementia specialists — and the truths.
Myth No. 1: ‘Memory loss and getting Alzheimer’s are part of aging’
As people age, their brains and bodies change, noted Lakelyn Hogan Eichenberger, PhD, a gerontologist and care advocate for Home Instead in Omaha, Nebraska.
“As we age, we will all tend to experience changes in our brains,” she said, “such as slower processing speed, trouble multitasking, occasional challenges with word retrieval, decreased ability to learn new information quickly, and mild memory changes like forgetting names of where you placed an item.”
But if these things become frequent — or if they increase in severity and you start to notice a pattern — it could be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, Eichenberger said.
“Also, if memory loss starts to disrupt daily life, that is cause for concern,” she also told Fox News Digital.
“Several variables beyond genetics play a role in the development of the disease. Environmental and lifestyle factors also affect a person’s risk.”
“Additional signs of Alzheimer’s may involve difficulties with problem-solving, language skills and judgment, as well as changes in personality and behavior, which are not characteristic of normal aging.”
Myth No. 2: ‘Only older people get Alzheimer’s’
While it is less prevalent, Alzheimer’s can impact people in their 50s, 40s and even 30s, Eichenberger said.
An estimated 200,000 people younger than age 65 live with younger-onset (also known as early-onset) Alzheimer’s, per data from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Myth No. 3: ‘Alzheimer’s and dementia are the same disease’
Alzheimer’s is a specific disease and the largest cause of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of all cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Many different types of dementia exist and many conditions cause it,” Moreno of the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago told Fox News Digital. “Dementia is an umbrella term describing cognitive decline serious enough to interfere with daily living.”
Other common types include vascular dementia, mixed dementia (more than one cause of dementia occurring simultaneously), Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease, according to Moreno.
Myth No. 4: ‘I will develop Alzheimer’s disease if my parent has it’
Just because a biological parent has Alzheimer’s does not mean that the person’s children will develop it, noted Eichenberger.
“Several variables beyond genetics play a role in the development of the disease,” she said.
“Environmental and lifestyle factors also affect a person’s risk.”
She added, “Although we don’t yet know how to prevent Alzheimer’s, it’s important to practice healthy habits, such as exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet.”
Myth No. 5: ‘People with Alzheimer’s don’t know what’s going on around them’
Those with Alzheimer’s may become more easily confused or disoriented, but they are often in tune with their surroundings, Eichenberger pointed out.
“It is important never to talk about the person in front of them or assume they don’t understand,” she said.
“Adjust your communication style to use simple language and provide extra time for responding. Offer corrections as suggestions and avoid explanations that sound like scolding.”
Myth No. 6: ‘An Alzheimer’s diagnosis means a facility is required’
Eighty percent of Alzheimer’s care is provided in the home, not a facility, according to the CDC.
“Home is a familiar environment that can help an individual living with Alzheimer’s continue to maintain independence,” Eichenberger said. “Creating structure in consistent daily routines can be comforting.”
To reduce the risk of falls and accidents, she recommends creating a safe environment by installing grab bars in the bathrooms, automatic stove shut-offs and door sensors to alert family if someone has exited the home.
“People living with dementia can still plan ahead, make goals for the future or explore new hobbies.”
“Hiring outside help, such as home care, can provide the individual with additional support and the family with respite,” Eichenberger added.
Myth No. 7: ‘Alzheimer’s can be prevented’
Currently, there is no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s, noted Moreno, although it is an area of robust research.
“There are, however, steps you can take to reduce your risk of cognitive decline,” Moreno said.
“These include adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors, including eating [well], exercising regularly, not smoking, maintaining healthy blood pressure, managing cholesterol and body weight, and staying cognitively engaged.”
She also said, “Research suggests that incorporating these behaviors in combination will have the greatest benefit.”
Myth No. 8: ‘An Alzheimer’s diagnosis means life as I know it is over’
Quality of life can be maintained despite a diagnosis, experts agree.
Added Eichenberger, “People living with dementia can still plan ahead, make goals for the future or explore new hobbies.”
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are some medications that could slow the progression or temporarily improve the symptoms, Eichenberger noted — “but it is important to discuss them with your health care provider, as they are not right for everyone.”
Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can also engage in lifestyle changes and cognitive stimulation to help manage symptoms, she noted.
“People living with the disease could also enroll in clinical trials that are exploring new treatments,” said Eichenberger.
“These trials are important for future treatments and ultimately, we hope, a cure.”