Myths About Alzheimer’s Disease

I know that by now, I probably sound like a broken record when I say that people do not want to think about Alzheimer’s disease or aging in general.  That is their choice.


But one of the problems caused by this stubborn refusal to address reality is that many myths about Alzheimer’s come to be viewed as truth.  Worst of all, some of these myths prevent people from proper long-term care planning, and they can drive people away from getting involved with the cause of ultimately ending Alzheimer’s disease.


I thought I would take a few moments to address some of the Alzheimer’s Association’s common misconceptions about Alzheimer’s, to help people distinguish myth from reality.

Myth:  Memory loss is a natural part of aging.

Reality: As people age, it’s normal to have occasional memory problems, such as forgetting the name of a person you’ve recently met.  However, Alzheimer’s is more than occasional memory loss.  It’s a disease that causes brain cells to malfunction and ultimately die.  When this happens, an individual may forget the name of a longtime friend or what roads to take to return to a home they’ve lived in for decades.

It can be difficult to tell normal memory problems from memory problems that should be a cause for concern.  If you or a loved one has memory problems or other problems with thinking and learning that concern you, contact a physician.  Sometimes the problems are caused by medication side effects, vitamin deficiencies or other conditions and can be reversed with treatment.  The memory and thinking problems may also be caused by another type of dementia.

Myth:  Only older people can get Alzheimer’s.

Reality: Alzheimer’s can strike people in their 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s.  This is called younger-onset Alzheimer’s.  It is estimated that there are more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States.  This includes 5.2 million people age 65 and older and 200,000 people younger than age 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Myth:  Alzheimer’s disease is not fatal.

Reality: Alzheimer’s disease has no survivors.  It destroys brain cells and causes memory changes, erratic behaviors and loss of body functions.  It slowly and painfully takes away a person’s identity, ability to connect with others, think, eat, talk, walk and find his or her way home.

Myth :  Drinking out of aluminum cans or cooking in aluminum pots and pans can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Reality: During the 1960’s and 1970’s, aluminum emerged as a possible suspect in Alzheimer’s.  This suspicion led to concern about exposure to aluminum through everyday sources such as pots and pans, beverage cans, antacids and antiperspirants.  Since then, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s.  Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.

Myth:  Aspartame causes memory loss.

Reality: This artificial sweetener, marketed under such brand names as Nutrasweet and Equal, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in all foods and beverages in 1996.  Since approval, concerns about aspartame’s health effects have been raised.

According to the FDA, as of May 2006, the agency had not been presented with any scientific evidence that would lead to change its conclusions on the safety of aspartame for most people.  The agency says its conclusions are based on more than 100 laboratory and clinical studies.

Myth:  Flu shots increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.flu shot

Reality: A theory linking flu shots to a greatly increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease has been proposed by a U.S. doctor whose license was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners.  Several mainstream studies link flu shots and other vaccinations to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and overall better health.


  • A Nov. 27, 2001, Canadian Medical Journal report suggests older adults who were vaccinated against diphtheria or tetanus, polio, and influenza seemed to have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those not receiving these vaccinations.

  • A report in the Nov. 3, 2004, Journal of the American Medical Association found that annual flu shots for older adults were associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes.

Myth:  There are treatments available to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Reality: At this time, there is no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.  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.


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