4 unhelpful myths about dementia debunked

Fear of dementia and its potentially devastating effects looms large in the minds of many, but myths and misunderstandings have led to a distorted view of the condition argues Australian psychiatrist and dementia specialist Dr Kailas Roberts.

In a recent article in the Guardian, he writes that our “bleak view” of dementia is “often unjustified”. Prevention and delay of symptoms are both possible, and when help is sought early, much can be done to help as dementia develops.

He sets out to debunk 4 common misconceptions which he believes lead to both undue worry and anguish and, worryingly, a reluctance to seek timely help and support.

Myth 1 – Every individual affected by dementia will experience memory loss.

Memory loss is the main symptom that is synonymous with Alzheimer’s disease, but it is much less prevalent in many others causes of dementia where changes in personality, language skills and/or spatial awareness are more likely to come to the fore. “Any change in cognitive function – not just memory, but language, social cognition, visuospatial abilities and the like – should prompt you to seek medical advice ” he recommends.

Myth 2 – If someone in your family develops dementia, then so will you.

Roberts points out that while genetics play a role in determining risk, far more important is the lifestyle choices we make. A growing body of research dictates that exercise, diet, sleep, staying connected with others, learning new skills, checking your hearing and keeping your heart healthy are all key factors in the prevention and delay of dementia.

Myth 3 – Dementia is inevitable.

The mistaken belief that dementia is inevitable tends to lead to people delaying, or even avoiding a diagnosis altogether. A timely diagnosis gives both you and your loved ones chance to adjust and plan ahead – and the earlier you do this, the more effective your decisions about your future wishes and care choices will be.

Myth 4 – Nothing can be done about it if you develop dementia.

Dr Roberts points out that this is simply not true. Medications are available that can have a real impact on the psychological and behavioural changes that often accompany the condition, and support can be found from a range of charities and support organisations that will help you understand the specific and unmet needs of the person with dementia and tackle the environmental and behavioural changes needed to manage those needs.

“It is not unreasonable to expect a number of years of good quality of life, of enjoyment and contentment and satisfying relationships despite dementia being present. The chance of this is greatly improved by early recognition and institution of adequate support.”
Dr Kailas Roberts

Dr Robert’s message is a positive one and will hopefully supply comfort and hope to the families of the 850,000 people affected in the UK.

You can read the full article by Dr Kailas Roberts in the Guardian