Questions about Alzheimer’s
Posted on 17 December 2013
We clear up five myths about Alzheimer’s disease with the help of neurologist Dr John Gardiner from Mediclinic Constantiaberg.
Words Words Robyn von Geusau
Alzheimer’s disease is no joke. It goes far beyond Gran forgetting where she put her car keys or finding her umbrella in the underwear drawer – it’s also about the loss of thinking skills and the inability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia. Nerve cells die in particular regions of the brain and it shrinks as gaps develop in the areas responsible for storing and retrieving new information. This affects people’s ability to remember, speak, think and make decisions.
‘My dad can’t remember the names of his favourite authors. We suspect he’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.’
true or false? The benign forgetfulness that comes with ageing (age-associated memory impairment) or mild cognitive impairment are not dementias. They are symptoms of people getting older and no longer being at the top of their game, says Dr Gardiner. Some people who have these indicators will develop Alzheimer’s but others won’t be affected by it at all. Being forgetful is one thing, but if someone can’t put on their clothes and no longer understands social graces, the alarm bells should go off – Alzheimer’s is diagnosed when there is memory loss and mental fallout.
‘Cooking in aluminium pots can cause Alzheimer’s.’
FALSE This myth has been around for a long time. There is no proof that there is a link between the two.
‘Medication could keep symptoms of Alzheimer’s at bay.’
PARTLY TRUE Some drugs have modest effects and may work in the first stage of the disease. Currently there are no drugs available to change or reverse the underlying process – Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. There is no evidence that increasing your intake of B vitamins can prevent and/or slow it down.
‘My mother has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so she should stop driving.’
PARTLY TRUE That is generally the rule, says Dr Gardiner. ‘If Alzheimer’s is established, the attending neurologist may suggest the patient no longer drives.’ It can become quite a difficult issue: keys may need to be taken away and cars sold, as patients could become obstructive.
‘People with Alzheimer’s will become agitated, violent and aggressive.’
PARTLY TRUE Only a small percentage do. Most people become more of what they were before: if they were passive, they’ll be more passive; if they were aggressive, they’ll become more so.
‘If I have Alzheimer’s, I can no longer function in society or have quality of life.’
PARTLY TRUE In the early stages of Alzheimer’s you can conceal and get away with a lot, but once it has been established, you would generally struggle to function in society. ‘More importantly, patients often shy away from social interaction and conversation, and should be allowed to do so,’ says Dr Gardiner.