Myth 1: Memory loss is a natural part of aging.
Reality: As people age, it’s normal to have occasional memory problems, such as forgetting the name of a person you’ve recently met. However, Alzheimer’s is more than occasional memory loss. It’s a disease that causes brain cells to malfunction and ultimately die. When this happens, an individual may forget the name of a longtime friend or what roads to take to return to a home they’ve lived in for decades.
It can be difficult to tell normal memory problems from memory problems that should be a cause for concern. The Alzheimer’s Association has developed information to help you tell the difference. If you or a loved one has memory problems or other problems with thinking and learning that concern you, contact a physician. Sometimes the problems are caused by medication side effects, vitamin deficiencies or other conditions and can be reversed with treatment. The memory and thinking problems may also be caused by another type of dementia.
Myth 2: Alzheimer’s disease is not fatal.
Reality: Alzheimer’s disease has no survivors. It destroys brain cells and causes memory changes, erratic behaviors and loss of body functions. It slowly and painfully takes away a person’s identity, ability to connect with others, think, eat, talk, walk and find his or her way home.
Myth 3: Only older people can get Alzheimer’s
Reality: Alzheimer’s can strike people in their 30s, 40s and even 50s. This is called younger-onset Alzheimer’s. It is estimated that there are more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. This includes 5.2 million people age 65 and older and 200,000 people younger than age 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Myth 4: Drinking out of aluminum cans or cooking in aluminum pots and pans can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Reality: During the 1960s and 1970s, aluminum emerged as a possible suspect in Alzheimer’s. This suspicion led to concern about exposure to aluminum through everyday sources such as pots and pans, beverage cans, antacids and antiperspirants. Since then, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.
Myth 5: Aspartame causes memory loss.
Reality: This artificial sweetener, marketed under such brand names as Nutrasweet and Equal, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in all foods and beverages in 1996. Since approval, concerns about aspartame’s health effects have been raised.
According to the FDA, as of May 2006, the agency had not been presented with any scientific evidence that would lead to change its conclusions on the safety of aspartame for most people. The agency says its conclusions are based on more than 100 laboratory and clinical studies. Read the May 2006 FDA statement about aspartame.
Myth 6: Flu shots increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Reality: A theory linking flu shots to a greatly increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease has been proposed by a U.S. doctor whose license was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners. Several mainstream studies link flu shots and other vaccinations to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and overall better health.
- A Nov. 27, 2001, Canadian Medical Journal report suggests older adults who were vaccinated against diphtheria or tetanus, polio, and influenza seemed to have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those not receiving these vaccinations. The full text of this report is posted on the journal’s Web site.
- A report in the Nov. 3, 2004, JAMA found that annual flu shots for older adults were associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes. The abstract of that report is posted on PubMed.
Myth 7: Silver dental fillings increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Reality: According to the best available scientific evidence, there is no relationship between silver dental fillings and Alzheimer’s. The concern that there could be a link arose because “silver” fillings are made of an amalgam (mixture) that typically contains about 50 percent mercury, 35 percent silver and 15 percent tin. Mercury is a heavy metal that, in certain forms, is known to be toxic to the brain and other organs.
Many scientists consider the studies below compelling evidence that dental amalgam is not a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Public health agencies, including the FDA, the U.S. Public Health Service and the World Health Organization, endorse the continued use of amalgam as safe, strong, inexpensive material for dental restorations.
- March 1991, the Dental Devices Panel of the FDA concluded there was no current evidence that amalgam poses any danger.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1991 funded a study at the University of Kentucky to investigate the relationship between amalgam fillings and Alzheimer’s. Analysis by University statisticians revealed no significant association between silver fillings and Alzheimer’s. The abstract for this study is posted on the Journal of the American Dental Association Web site.
- October 30, 2003, a New England Journal of Medicine article concluded that current evidence shows no connection between mercury-containing dental fillings and Alzheimer’s or other neurological diseases. The abstract for this study is posted on the New England Journal of Medicine Web site.
Myth 8: There are treatments available to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease
Reality: At this time, there is no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. FDA-approved drugs temporarily slow worsening of symptoms for about 6 to 12 months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.