Health Matters: Alzheimer's Disease Myths & Misconceptions

Alzheimer’s Disease: Myths and Misconceptions

We all tend to forget things as we age, but age-related memory issues are a far cry from a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Even dementia, which is often used as an “umbrella” term to describe the symptoms of cognitive decline, doesn’t capture all the intricacies of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

“It’s very important you see your primary care physician so you can get tested for a myriad of other things that may be going on before you are actually diagnosed,” says Susan Bodnar, Director of Senior Services at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital. “Once your primary care physician feels like that might be where it’s going, he or she will then refer you to a neurologist who will do further testing and get a definitive diagnosis.”

Identifying Early Symptoms

As of 2017, Medicare pays for healthcare professionals to perform a cognitive exam each year, which allows primary care providers to conduct a comparison in behaviors from years’ past. But, Bodnar says loved ones are usually one’s best first source to identify issues.

“They are the ones who will notice declines, like losing a set of keys all the time,” she notes. “It’s important to not automatically jump to Alzheimer’s disease, but if you or they start finding keys in the refrigerator or the stove, in places you’ve never put them before, that’s a sign to be concerned.”

Genetic Ties

Genetic research is ongoing, but some studies indicate there is an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s if it is present in family members. The risk increases with the number of family members who live with the disease.

“I know a woman whose mom has it, and testing reveals indications of a 50% chance she may develop the disease,” shares Bodnar. “Just because a parent or a sibling has it doesn’t mean you absolutely will develop Alzheimer’s at some point, but it does mean there is an increased chance.”

Not Just an Elderly Person’s Disease

One myth is that Alzheimer’s only affects the elderly population. The reality is, there are over 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 who have been diagnosed. “We now call it younger-onset Alzheimer’s. People are being diagnosed as early as their 30s, 40s and 50s. Of course, as we age the risk does increase, but it’s definitely not just a disease for older people.”

Lifestyle & Medication Interventions

No cure currently exists for Alzheimer’s, but there are medications that may slightly slow the progression of the disease. Unfortunately, these medications don’t result in a significant change in the overall progression of the disease. In combination with medication interventions, Bodnar stresses the need for positive lifestyle measures, such as healthy eating, exercise, and socialization.

“Lead a brain-healthy diet. Get rid of all those excess sugars, and eat more high fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables. Walking at least 30 minutes every single day is also important, as is keeping up with socialization. A lot of folks withdraw from their social circles when symptoms start to occur, because they realize what’s going on and they are afraid to put themselves out there. But, it’s really important to keep yourself engaged and to keep your brain thinking.”

For More Information

Per Bodnar, the Alzheimer’s Association website, www.alz.org, is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the disease. “They have what’s called the ‘ten symptoms,’ which is where we should all start, something to review on an ongoing basis. They also have online classes, and in many communities they do actually in-person classes as well. They are an awesome resource.”

To find out more about Ridgecrest Regional Hospital Senior Services, visit www.rrh.org.

**To listen to an interview with Susan Bodnar, Director of Senior Services at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, follow this link: