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5 Myths About Alzheimer's Disease

By Kara Mayer Robinson
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD

Get the facts about Alzheimer's disease as we clear up five common misunderstandings.

Myth No. 1: Alzheimer’s happens only to older people.

Most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But it can happen when you’re younger, too. About 5% of people with the disease get symptoms in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. It’s called early-onset Alzheimer’s.

People who have it often go a long time before getting an accurate diagnosis. That’s because doctors don’t usually consider it a possibility during midlife. They often think symptoms like memory loss are from stress.

Early-onset Alzheimer's can be genetic. Scientists think it involves changes in one of three rare genes passed down from a parent.

Myth No. 2: Alzheimer’s symptoms are a normal part of aging.

Some memory loss is a normal part of aging. But Alzheimer’s symptoms -- like forgetfulness that interferes with your daily life, and disorientation -- are not.

It’s normal to forget where your keys are from time to time. But forgetting how to drive to a place you’ve been many times, or losing track of what season it is, points to a more serious problem.

Unlike the mild memory loss that can happen with aging, Alzheimer's disease takes a growing toll on the brain. As the disease gradually worsens, it takes away someone's ability to think, eat, talk, and more.

So, if your mind doesn't seem as sharp as it used to be, that doesn't mean you have Alzheimer's symptoms. The condition becomes more common among people as they age, but “it isn’t an inevitable part of aging,” says George Perry, MD. He's a neuroscientist and a member of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

Myth No. 3: Alzheimer’s doesn't lead to death.

Sadly, it's the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Most people live 8 to 10 years after they’re diagnosed.

They can forget to drink or eat, or they might have trouble swallowing, which can lead to a severe shortage of nutrients. They can also have breathing problems, and that can lead to pneumonia, which is often deadly, Perry says.

Also, the high-risk behaviors that sometimes stem from Alzheimer's, like wandering into dangerous situations, can be fatal.

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