There is still so much social stigma around dementia and most of it can be attributed to the lack of understanding of the disease. I challenge you to start a conversation using the information below to begin busting some dementia myths.
Dementia is a mental illness
No, it is not. Dementia is a broad term for the symptoms caused by a group of diseases that impair brain function. Dementia is a progressive neurological condition and there is no cure.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the same thing
Not quite. Alzheimer’s disease is one of around 100 different causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia diagnosed in Australia (around 70%). The other most common causes of dementia in Australia are vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.
It’s normal, it happens with age
Dementia is not a normal part of ageing. Memory loss is a common symptom of dementia but it is not the only one. Other symptoms may include confusion and disorientation, changes in mood and behaviour, loss of language and ability to speak, and in some people impairment of hearing and sight.
Dementia is an older person’s disease
Although more common in people over 65, dementia can occur in people as young as 30. When diagnosed before the age of 65 the condition is referred to as younger onset dementia. There are over 2,500 people in Western Australia diagnosed with younger onset dementia.
While dementia is not just an older person’s condition, the risk of developing dementia does increase as we get older. Around one in 10 people will develop dementia over the age of 65. This increases to one in three over the age of 85.
It’s genetic – if mum or dad had it then I will get it too
Genetic factors can play a role, but less so than previously thought.
The presence of the APO-e4 gene may increase a person’s risk of developing dementia, but the amount of people who carry this gene and then go on to develop dementia is largely unknown.
Another form of dementia – Familial Alzheimer’s disease – is a very rare genetic form of dementia that affects younger people.
Anyone can develop dementia and the risk of developing it increases with age.
There is no point spending time with a person with dementia – they won’t remember
A person with dementia may not remember what you have said but they will always remember how you made them feel. It is never a waste of time to spend time with a person with dementia, however it is important to modify your communication to ensure you make it as effective as possible. Use non verbal cues to assist communication: consider facial expression and body language.
A person with dementia won’t be aware of what is happening around them
Some people assume that if a person living with dementia is unable to communicate, they are not aware of anything happening around them. The part of the brain responsible for communication is separate to the part responsible for awareness. This means a person with dementia who is unable to communicate may still be very aware of what is going on in the environment around them.
There is no life after a diagnosis of dementia
Although a diagnosis of dementia is not something people plan for, it is often met with relief by the person experiencing symptoms, and by their family members. A diagnosis also means a person can access the support they need to live well and start planning for their new circumstances.
Accessing support as early as possible can have many benefits including being able to talk to someone about your diagnosis. Our trained consultants can visit you in the privacy of your own home, discuss your recent diagnosis of dementia and answer any questions you have around living with dementia in the early stages.
Other benefits of accessing support include meeting people who are in a similar situation as you, and being able to share your experiences. Clients often tell us after taking part in one of our early intervention programs they feel more accepting of the future, that they no longer feel ‘down’, and that it is wonderful to connect with other people and share the journey.
There is life after a diagnosis of dementia, and you can live it well. Find out more about the support available to you by calling 1300 66 77 88 or visiting alzheimerswa.org.au.