January 28, 2020

Alzheimer’s Affects More than Memory: Separating Fact from Fiction

older woman with wondering lookBy Cheri Hinshelwood

“Alzheimer’s interferes with how messages are sent and received, causing total chaos in the brain,” said Patti Wheeler, MD, family doctor at Mission Community Primary Care – Highlands.

Common signs include no longer being able to balance your checkbook, having trouble solving problems or making decisions, or frequently getting lost. Let’s learn more, as Dr. Wheeler separates truth from rumor.

Myth: Memory loss is a normal part of aging.

Fact: “Taking longer to recall a memory is normal as we age, because there’s more information to sort through,” said Dr. Wheeler. However, Alzheimer’s progressively destroys brain function causing loss of all voluntary actions, including things like how to dress or feed ourselves.

Myth: Eating out of aluminum cookware causes Alzheimer’s.

Fact: While the precise reason people develop Alzheimer’s is not known, it has not been found to be associated to certain medications or using aluminum cookware. It is not genetic and no cure or preventions are known. “The biggest thing to do is to take care of your body and eat well,” said Dr. Wheeler. Taking B complex vitamins also seems to help with overall brain health, along with stimulating activities to improve brain function.

Myth: Every kind of dementia is Alzheimer’s.

Fact: There are lots of causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s is just one kind of dementia. Early onset Alzheimer’s is aggressive and rapidly progresses within about 10 years and is seen in people in their late 50s to early 60s. Most diagnoses come after the age of 60, but the disease is progressive and usually requires supportive care for the patient within 3 to 4 years.

Myth: Once you’ve been diagnosed there’s nothing you can do.

Fact: “While there’s no known cure, medications do help prevent its progression and can lengthen the time you are capable of functioning independently,” said Dr. Wheeler. For those with the diagnosis, Dr. Wheeler suggests having a routine with regular times to eat, sleep and do other activities. Calendars and sticky notes or lists are helpful, and speech pathologists can help stimulate the brain so language skills and memory can improve.

Patti Wheeler, MD, is a family doctor at Mission Community Primary Care – Highlands.

Looking for a family doctor? To find a primary care provider in your area, visit missionhealth.org/providerfinder.