Alzheimer’s: Myths and Misconceptions
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2023
With so much information about Alzheimer’s out there, it can be difficult to determine what is accurate. Bad information can be harmful. It can also make diagnosis or treatment more difficult.
Knowing common myths and misconceptions can give you the tools to talk to your care team accurately about the symptoms you are experiencing and any concerns you may have.
Myth 1: Alzheimer’s and dementia are the same thing.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are often mentioned together. But the 2 are not the same. Dementia is a general term for impaired memory, reasoning, and thinking. There are many different kinds of dementia, not just Alzheimer’s.1
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, and the most well-known. But other types include:1
- Vascular dementia
- Lewy body dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia
Myth 2: Only older people get Alzheimer’s.
While the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age, this does not mean that only older people develop it. Some people experience symptoms younger, even as early as their 30s. Alzheimer’s with onset before the age of 65 is called early-onset Alzheimer’s.1,2
Early-onset Alzheimer’s is rare. Less than 5 percent of people with Alzheimer’s have early-onset. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is often passed down (genetically inherited) from a parent.1-3
Myth 3: Alzheimer’s symptoms are normal as we age.
Age-related forgetfulness from time to time is normal. This can include losing or misplacing items, or forgetting the name of someone you just met.1,2
But other symptoms of Alzheimer’s do not normally occur just because of age. These include:1
- Poor financial decisions
- Poor judgment
- Issues recognizing loved ones
- Losing track of the day or year
- Getting lost in a familiar area
It can be difficult to tell normal memory issues from issues that could be concerning. If you or a loved one is experiencing memory issues, talk to your doctor. They can help you determine the underlying cause.2
Myth 4: There are no treatments for Alzheimer’s.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. But there are several treatments and coping strategies available to help people, especially with behavioral symptoms.1
There are some drugs available to help lessen symptoms, such as memory loss or confusion. Some treatments in development, like a drug called aducanumab, aim to help the underlying cause. Removal of amyloid plaques may be helpful in slowing or stopping disease progression. These plaques are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.2
But these drugs are still in development. They will need more thorough testing for effectiveness and safety before becoming widely available.2
Myth 5: If a parent has Alzheimer’s, you will get it as well.
It is true that your chance of developing Alzheimer’s is higher if a parent has it. But there is no guarantee that if your parent had Alzheimer's, you will get it, too. That is because there is a host of factors that play a role in disease development, not just genetics.1
Environmental and lifestyle factors play a strong role in Alzheimer’s development. These include smoking, diet, and exercise. Other health factors, like traumatic brain injury and heart health, are also important.1,3
Using strategies for healthy aging may decrease chances of getting Alzheimer’s, or slow its progression. New research emphasizes the importance of these factors in disease development. Strategies include:1,3
- Eating a balanced diet
- Staying active
- Engaging your mind and body
Myth 6: Aspartame, flu shots, aluminum pots, and silver dental fillings cause Alzheimer’s.
Studies have not found a link between any of these factors and Alzheimer’s. And many studies have come out that clearly show a lack of connection. In the case of flu shots, the doctor who proposed the theory had their license suspended. In fact, flu shots and other vaccinations can actually reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease.2
Myth 7: There are medicines that can prevent Alzheimer’s.
As of right now, there are no drugs or supplements available that have been proven to prevent Alzheimer’s. Some websites or ads claim to have a product that will treat or cure Alzheimer’s disease. But there is no scientific evidence backing these claims.1
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk. These include:1
- Controlling blood pressure
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Engaging in mental and physical exercise
- Sleeping 7 to 9 hours each night
- Preventing head injury
Before starting any kind of medicine or supplement, talk to your doctor about what is right for you.