There are many myths surrounding dementia. Here are some common myths that have often exacerbated the stigma of dementia and perpetuated negative stereotypes about the condition.
Debunking Myths About Dementia
Dementia is an illness that affects the brain and is not a natural part of ageing.
It is a condition that affects the brain, leading to progressive memory loss, decline in cognitive abilities, and personality changes.
In normal ageing, a person may:
• Still be able to pursue daily activities and function independently, despite occasional memory lapses.
• Require some time to remember directions and/or navigate new places.
• Still be capable of judgment and decision-making.
• Be able to recall and describe significant events.
• Have difficulty finding the right word to communicate but has no problem in holding a conversation.
There are different types of dementia, each with different causes and symptoms. What is common across causes of dementia is changes in the brain.
The causes of dementia include: Irreversible causes such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, Lewy Body conditions, and Fronto-temporal causes of dementia; and potentially reversible causes such as Hypothyroidism, Vitamin B12 Deficiency, and Alcohol-related syndromes.
Some memory lapses and the slowing of processing speed, such as with finding the right word, occurs with ageing.
Memory loss (forgetfulness) is one of the symptoms experienced by persons living with dementia. It is not the only symptom.
Common symptoms of different types of dementia include:
• Memory loss (forgetfulness) that occurs gradually, and worsens progressively with time. Immediate and short-term memory loss occurs first.
• Difficulty in communication.
• Problems recognising familiar faces or items.
• Worsening of general problem-solving, decision-making, judgment abilities and becoming more disorganised.
• Problems with daily activities such as buttoning of shirt, dressing and using utensils during mealtimes.
Sometimes, other behavioural and psychological symptoms may also occur:
• Sleep problems
Dementia can also occur to younger persons. Dementia in persons below age 65 is known as young-onset dementia.
There is a rising trend in young-onset dementia cases in Singapore, as it is in some other countries. This may be due to a few reasons, including greater awareness of the condition and better screening methods.
The top two causes for young-onset dementia are currently Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common cause, and vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia, where a series of mini-strokes occurs in the brain, is related to lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The rising trend in lifestyle diseases could be contributing to the rising rate of dementia diagnosis in younger persons.
How dementia looks like in a younger adult may be different from how it looks like in an older adult. Younger persons living with dementia tend to have more problems with language, problem-solving, planning, and object recognition. They may also show more behavioural changes.1,2
Dementia cannot be completely prevented with absolute certainty.3 However, there are ways to lower the risk of developing dementia.
Some risk factors of dementia, such as age, genes, or a lower level of educational attainment, are difficult or impossible to change.
However, the following can be done to lower the risk of dementia, or to delay the onset of dementia:
• Be physically active and exercise regularly
• Keep blood pressure at a healthy level
• Monitor blood glucose if you have diabetes
• Eat a balanced diet
• Quit smoking
• Go for regular health screening
• Refrain from heavy alcohol intake
• Be socially engaged
Developing dementia is not a death sentence. A person living with dementia can continue to adapt to life with their condition and can still live a meaningful life.
The person living with dementia and the people around them can still experience personal growth, relational growth, and enjoy meaningful experiences amidst the grief and loss that occurs with the progression of dementia.
Because dementia develops in a progressive way, and the loss of capabilities does not happen all at once, persons living with dementia continue to be able to do things for some time.
Depending on where they live, there may be support for persons living with dementia to continue to be included in meaningful social life. For example, in Singapore, there is growing awareness of dementia. There are also dementia-inclusive initiatives being carried out by different sectors and partners in the community to design the environment in a way that enables persons living with dementia and their caregivers to participate in community life.
Find out more on Dementia-Inclusive Environments.
Although there is no cure for dementia, there are both pharmacological and psychosocial methods to manage the conditions of persons with dementia.
• Reversible causes and risk factors can be treated.
• Medications to slow the progression of dementia can be taken.
• Medications to improve the cognitive symptoms in Alzheimer’s Disease can be taken.
• Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD) can be managed through non-medication measures and with medication.
Dementia develops gradually. During the earlier stages, persons living with dementia will still have some level of ability to make decisions, perform different actions, communicate, and be aware of themselves and their surroundings. Even during the later stages of dementia, persons living with dementia do have preferences, abilities, ways to communicate and awareness, which are expressed in their own way.
Something is hereditary if it is passed from parents to offspring through genes. In the majority of cases, dementia is not strictly inherited.
• Firstly, the development of dementia happens because of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. These factors work together to increase or decrease a person’s risk of developing dementia. A person with a biological parent or relative who has developed dementia will not necessarily develop dementia. However, this person’s risk of developing dementia will be increased.
• Secondly, the type of dementia a biological parent or relative has will affect the risk of a person developing dementia. Some types dementia, such as frontotemporal dementia, have a stronger genetic link compared to other types of dementia.
Watch ONE FM 91.3 radio hosts have a conversation with Dementia Singapore CEO Jason Foo about some myths about dementia.
- Gan, E. (2017, June 14). Dementia affecting more people under the age of 65. TODAYOnline. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/dementia-affecting-more-people-under-age-65
- Teo, J. (2020, 21 June). More here diagnosed with young onset dementia, says NNI. SingHealth. https://www.singhealth.com.sg/news/tomorrows-medicine/more-here-diagnosed-with-young-onset-dementia-says-nni
- National Health Service. (n.d.). Can dementia be prevented? Retrieved 4 March, 2021, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/dementia-prevention/