What Causes Dementia? Debunking Four Myths
Although the stigma surrounding dementia decreased in recent years, there are still a lot of myths and misinformation making the rounds online.
Dementia is a condition affecting more than 55 million people worldwide. It causes problems with language, memory, and cognition. Scientists still don’t fully understand what causes dementia, but they have safely ruled some things out. However, there are many myths and misconceptions that persist online.
This misinformation posits simple, but inaccurate, explanations for the dementia’s cause — explanations which can increase anxiety (which, ultimately, can be harmful to brain health) and stigmatize people with dementia.
Myth #1: Aluminum causes dementia
In the 1960s and 1970s, researchers studied the link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s in animal models. Hearing about this research, some people became worried about drinking from soda cans, using aluminum cookware, or even antiperspirants. The myth is still making the rounds online, despite that the scientific consensus is that no such link was ever established.
Myth #2: Diet soda increases the risk of dementia
A highly-criticized 2017 study linked diet soda to Alzheimer’s. It led to a flurry of clickbait articles suggesting you should ditch the diet soda.
Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the statistical methods, scientists agree the study did not convincingly establish any link between diet soda and dementia. There is no credible, established evidence currently linking diet soda to dementia.
Despite being linked to every disease under the sun, the artificial sweeteners in diet soda have been studied for decades, with dozens of studies supporting their overall safety as food additives.
The takeaway: Avoiding dementia isn’t as simple as avoiding diet soda — and those who drink diet soda aren’t necessarily doomed to a future of cognitive decline. If you are concerned about your brain health and interested in what to eat and drink in order to help lower your dementia risk, dig into the latest research. A Mediterranean-style diet consisting of vegetables, legumes, fruit, whole grains, and fish is one way to get blood pressure and cholesterol in check. Since blood pressure and cholesterol are dementia risk factors, scientists are studying whether this diet prevents dementia.
Myth #3: Dementia is a normal part of aging
Despite misconceptions, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. While people may become a little forgetful as they age, they can still form new memories and learn. People living with dementia, whether it is vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or another form of the disease, typically have deposits of certain proteins in their brains, and die-offs of brain cells — things you don’t see in a healthy brain, no matter a person’s age.
Myth #4: If your parent has dementia, you will eventually have it too
Many people mistakenly believe that dementias, like Alzheimer’s disease, are genetic. However, only five percent of Alzheimer’s dementia is directly caused by specific genes. For the rest of the cases, genetics is just one piece of a much larger puzzle.
While a few genes, like ApoE4, which increases the risk of dementia substantially, most only increase dementia risk by just a few percentage points. So, while genetics is an important component, it is impossible to know how genes will impact your brain health in the long run.
Dementia is a complex condition with no singular cause — that means it can’t be blamed on a simple lifestyle factor. It is important to spot these myths and misconceptions when they pop up.
They exaggerate health anxiety, which in turn can lead to poorer cognitive health. They also foster stigma around aging and can lead to hesitance to seek proper diagnosis and care that could improve a person’s quality of life.
While dementia is increasingly prevalent, research shows that two in every five cases are preventable with the right lifestyle modifications, Focusing on the real risk factors of the disease — like high blood pressure and sedentary lifestyles — is the best way to help protect brain health.
To learn about clinical trials of new medications that aim to modify the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, call Charter Research at 407-337-1000 (Orlando) or 352-775-1000 (The Villages).