Alzheimer's disease: Separating myth from fact

Nov. 5, 2017—Alzheimer's disease can be misunderstood. Not every forgotten birthday or missed appointment means someone has this common form of dementia. Consider these nine myths and facts about Alzheimer's:

  • Myth: Alzheimer's only strikes seniors. Age is the biggest risk factor for the disease—most cases occur after age 65, according to the Alzheimer's Association. But many younger people with Alzheimer's have an early-onset form of the disease.
  • Fact: Memory loss is one of the first signs of the disease. Many older people occasionally and temporarily misplace items or forget a name. But with Alzheimer's, the memory and thinking problems eventually interfere with daily activities, such as getting lost in familiar places, or forgetting how to cook a favorite meal or balance a checkbook.
  • Fact: No one knows exactly what causes Alzheimer's. But scientists know that nerve cells that affect thinking, learning and memory become damaged and die during the course of the disease. And brain changes may start years before memory loss begins.
  • Myth: Alzheimer's isn't fatal. It's actually the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Fact: Other things besides Alzheimer's can cause memory loss. Other treatable causes of memory loss include thyroid disorders, depression, vitamin deficiencies and medication side effects.
  • Fact: Alzheimer's causes mood changes. Someone with Alzheimer's may become confused, suspicious, angry or depressed.
  • Myth: Alzheimer's can't be treated. No treatment can stop Alzheimer's from progressing. But medication can slow some symptoms for a while. In this way, treatment may benefit people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers.
  • Fact: Getting an early diagnosis is important. Although Alzheimer's can't be cured, an early diagnosis can give people with the disease and their loved ones time to plan for the future.
  • Myth: You'll know if you develop Alzheimer's. Many people with Alzheimer's don't realize their memory is failing at first. But family and friends may notice the signs.

Know the warning signs

If you or a loved one has problems with thinking or remembering, see a doctor to determine the cause. You can learn more about Alzheimer's and its warning signs in our Alzheimer's Disease health topic center.