Many myths surround dementia

Lack of understanding can lead to isolation
  • Deborah Condon

It is a myth to think that only older people develop dementia or that the condition is a natural part of ageing, experts have said.

This week is National Brain Awareness Week and as part of this event, the ‘Dementia: Understand Together' campaign, which is led by the HSE and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI), is highlighting some common myths.

Around 4,000 people develop dementia in Ireland every year - that is an average of 11 per day. Dementia is an umbrella term to describe a set of symptoms that occur when brain cells stop working properly. There are at least 400 different types, the most common of which is Alzheimer's disease.

Common symptoms may include memory loss, changes in mood and behaviour, and problems with thinking, language, problem-solving and carrying out everyday tasks.

According to Prof Brian Lawlor, consultant psychiatrist and chairperson of the ‘Dementia: Understand Together' campaign, research shows that 50% of people know or have known someone with dementia, yet just 25% of people feel they have a good understanding of the condition.

"This lack of understanding can result in friends and neighbours feeling awkward or embarrassed when someone they know is diagnosed with dementia, so often they say and do nothing. It can leave people with dementia and their loved ones feeling alone and isolated within their communities.

"By highlighting some myths that surround dementia, we hope to build people's awareness and understanding and to encourage people to talk about their experiences of the condition. We need to bring dementia out of the shadows and into the open to help combat the stigma and isolation people with dementia and their families sometimes experience," he commented.

Some of the most common myths include:
-Only older people develop dementia. While dementia is more common in people over the age of 65, younger people can also develop it. Early onset dementia refers to the condition in people under the age of 65
-Dementia is a natural part of ageing. This is not true. Nine out of 10 people do not develop the condition and many people live into their 80s and 90s with little memory decline
-There is nothing a person can do to reduce the risk of developing dementia. This is not true. Growing evidence suggests a number of lifestyle habits that can reduce the risk, such as eating healthily, not smoking, controlling high blood pressure and keeping socially engaged
-Once you develop dementia, there is nothing you can do. This is not true. While the condition cannot be cured, there are steps that can be taken to stabilise it, at least for a time, such as medical treatment and practical life changes
-People with dementia cannot understand what is going on. This is not true. Often, a person with dementia can understand much more than they can express. It is important to communicate directly to the person rather than speaking to their carer or family member. You may just have to give them time to gather their thoughts before they respond
-Someone with memory loss must have dementia. This is not true. Memory problems can be caused by many other things, such as depression, infections, stroke, severe vitamin deficiencies and even the side-effects of some medications.

If you are worried that you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of dementia, you should speak to your GP. You can also contact a dementia advisor by calling 1800 341 341 or visiting to find out more.

National Brain Awareness Week aims to raise awareness of neurological conditions and is coordinated by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland (NAI). For more information, click here


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