10 myths and truths about Alzheimer's disease

What's real and what's wrong in common perceptions of Alzheimer's.

Risk factors and symptoms

1. If no one in my family had Alzheimer's, I won't get it, either.
False There are two known types of the disease: familial Alzheimer's disease (FAD) and sporadic Alzheimer's disease. While it's true that FAD, the hereditary form of the disease, is passed on through genes, it accounts for only about five per cent of cases. The other 95 per cent are sporadic Alzheimer's disease, which may be caused by a variety of factors, including a high-fat diet and the environment. Doctors agree that adopting a healthy lifestyle (getting regular exercise, eating a balanced, low-fat diet and quitting unhealthy habits, such as smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol -- especially before your 40s) is a good way to help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's.

There are three genes associated with early-onset Alzheimer's (doctors attribute most cases to FAD) and virtually everyone who carries them develops the disease. However, experts have developed tests that can identify them with 90 per cent accuracy, so those who carry the genes can investigate treatment options.

2. Only the elderly are at risk.
False Roughly 90 per cent of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's are over 60, and this risk increases with age. However, people in their 30s, 40s and 50s can develop the disease. Doctors believe the early-onset form of the disease is somehow connected to FAD.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's shouldn't be ignored at any age. Consult a doctor if you notice any of the following in a loved one: confusion when performing daily tasks, such as using the microwave or doing the dishes; putting everyday objects in unusual places, such as the keys in the freezer or the iron in the spice cupboard; or other unusual behaviours that become increasingly common and can't be explained.

3. Women are at higher risk than men for developing Alzheimer's.
True Although the disease strikes both sexes, of the roughly 364,000 Canadians who currently have Alzheimer's or a related dementia, 68 per cent are women. (Alzheimer's can only be diagnosed with 100 per cent certainty through an autopsy, and not all people with dementia are studied after death, so doctors can't say exactly how many documented cases of dementia are actually Alzheimer's.)

Researchers believe that women get Alzheimer's more frequently than men because, on average, women live six years longer. One in 13 Canadians over 65 has Alzheimer's or a related dementia, but the number soars to one in three for Canadians over 85, so women's longevity is a strong risk factor for the disease. To date, other than age, there is no known reason why more women suffer from Alzheimer's than men.

Page 1 of 3 – Discover the different stages of Alzheimer's disease on page 2.

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