Although dementia has become more well-known among the general public, there are still a surprising number of myths which persist about the disorder and how it affects people. Some of these myths may have been thought true or accepted as fact in earlier days, but today are understood to be either untrue or untested.
Recognizing myths is important, as sometimes the information they impart can have negative effects on a person.
Among the common myths and misperceptions about dementia are the following:
- Because of their memory loss, people with dementia are like overgrown children. This is one of the most hurtful misperceptions concerning dementia. An adult with dementia is not a child. Memory issues and processing issues present challenges to them, but they are adults who have lived long and full lives. Treating a dementia patient as a child is disrespectful and is likely to create anger and resentment in him or her.
- Drinking soda or beer from aluminum cans causes dementia. This theory was presented during the 1960s and 1970s and quickly gained currency; however, no tests have ever established a plausible link between aluminum and dementia and today this is discredited. There also has been insufficient evidence to support the idea that silver tooth fillings, flu shots or aspartame (an artificial sweetener often used in diet sodas) cause dementia.
- Coconut oil prevents dementia. So far, no studies have supported this assertion, although research continues to see if certain components that are commonly found in coconut oil may have a benefit in either preventing or treating dementia. At this point, there also is not enough evidence to support suggestions that aspirin, statins, B vitamins, green tea, curcumin, Ginkgo Biloba or cinnamon can prevent or treat dementia.
- Dementia is unavoidable as a person ages. This implies that everyone gets dementia if they live long enough, which is certainly not true. Yes, a slowing down of memory and brain processes does tend to occur, but many people reach old ages with no actual dementia.
- A person with dementia can’t be included in decision making because that person doesn’t know what he or she wants. While some cases of advanced dementia may make decision making difficult, a person with dementia almost always DOES know what he or she wants. Caregivers and loved ones need to keep in mind that ignoring a person with dementia’s stated desires or leaving that person out of the decision-making process can make him, or her feel angry, distrustful, ignored, disrespected or sullen. It can be difficult, but finding a respectful way to incorporate a person with dementia into the decision making process when possible can have significant benefits.