There are about 50 million people in the world living with dementia.
It’s the umbrella term given to the symptoms caused by various diseases — most commonly Alzheimer’s. This is expected to go up to 152 million in 2050, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Despite the massive impact dementia has on the economy and people’s livelihoods, there are still many misconceptions around it.
There are also some facts that still surprise people.
For Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, we spoke to Alzheimer’s Research UK to find out what people normally get wrong, and what they often don’t know, about dementia.
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1. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not the same thing
Dementia is a term used for symptoms like confusion, memory loss, mood changes, and personality changes. There are a whole range of conditions that can cause dementia, not just Alzheimer’s. The most common are Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, vascular dementia and Frontotemporal dementia.
“Sometimes people will say to me, oh well she has Alzheimer’s disease, but she doesn’t have dementia … But really, if you have Alzheimer’s disease and you’re showing symptoms, then you have dementia,” said Laura Phipps, the head of communications and engagement at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “Dementia is just a word for the symptoms.”
2. People react differently to the words
Although dementia and Alzheimer’s are often confused, people tend to have different reactions to hearing each word.
“When you ask them to think about Alzheimer’s disease, they will put that in with other physical health conditions, like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes,” Phipps said. “And when you ask them to think about dementia, they don’t know what to do with it, and they tend to put it in with things like age and mental health.”
So even though dementia is caused by illnesses like Alzheimer’s, the word itself is conflated with being more of a mental disorder, than something caused by a physical disease.
3. Dementia isn’t an inevitable part of getting older
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A common misconception is that you get a bit forgetful as you get older, so dementia falls into that as an inevitability that just happens to most people.
“They’ll say, ‘oh yeah my grandma had dementia but she was very old,’ so it’s almost followed by an excuse that it was OK because they were old,” Phipps said. “And so I think that drives this kind of view in society that the diseases that cause dementia are not that important because there’s not much you can do about them.”
But this isn’t true. Dementia is caused by diseases. People understand cancer is a disease, that you shouldn’t have it and it’s unfair, Phipps said, but that’s not yet universally accepted by people when it comes to dementia.
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