Memory loss is a major worry for many people and is often considered the most significant concern about aging, even above financial worries. While worrying about Alzheimer’s is not helpful and may even increase stress levels, it is essential to understand the factors affecting the likelihood of Alzheimer, including the common myths about Alzheimer’s risk. Here are some common myths and the facts that dispel them:
Myth #1: Developing Alzheimer’s is inevitable as we age.
Fact: Although the risk of developing dementia increases with age, not all older adults will experience it. Half of the people in their 50s and early 60s believe they will experience significant cognitive loss as they age, but only 20% of older adults will develop dementia.
Myth #2: A genetic risk of Alzheimer’s means that one will inevitably get the disease, and nothing can be done to prevent it.
Fact: While the risk of dementia is higher in some families, making brain-healthy lifestyle choices can reduce this risk. People with a high genetic risk who made favorable lifestyle changes reduced their risk by 32%. Studies have shown that even identical triplets, two of whom have dementia while the third does not, show that environmental factors can affect the development of the disease.
Myth #3: The presence of plaques and tangles in the brain means the person will soon develop Alzheimer’s.
Fact: Some people have these brain abnormalities associated with Alzheimer’s but do not exhibit symptoms. This is because the human brain can form “backup” connections that compensate for the affected brain cells.
Myth #4: “Brain games” specifically designed for mental exercises to protect against dementia.
Fact: While brain-training products can be helpful, there is no greater benefit than many other activities that challenge the mind, such as learning a language, playing video games, traveling, and working at a stimulating job.
Myth #5: Solitary brain exercise is sufficient.
Fact: Socialization is important for brain stimulation, and research shows that there is a lower incidence of dementia among those who are socially engaged. Finding alternate ways to socialize is crucial, especially during times of social distancing, to avoid the epidemic of loneliness.
Myth #6: Exercise for the brain alone is sufficient.
Fact: Muscle-strengthening exercises, such as weightlifting, squats, and knee bends, are essential for brain health, and research has shown that they can even reverse memory loss. Building muscle increases beneficial chemicals in the brain, making it healthier overall.
Myth #7: Only aerobic exercise benefits the brain.
Fact: While it’s commonly believed that aerobic exercise is the best way to promote brain health, muscle-strengthening activities such as weight lifting, squats, and resistance band exercises have also been found to boost memory and overall health. Building muscle increases the production of beneficial chemicals in the brain and can even reverse memory loss.
Myth #8: Brain health can be protected with supplements.
Fact: While a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, and healthy fats like olive oil is recommended by Alzheimer’s Association experts, taking supplements is not necessary. Despite the many advertisements for brain-boosting supplements, no evidence supports their claims. A healthy diet is the best approach to preserving brain health.
Myth #9: Alcohol consumption can protect the brain.
Fact: Moderate drinking, particularly red wine, was once believed to benefit brain health. However, heavy drinking harms the brain and can cause brain shrinkage. Alcohol disorders are a leading preventable risk factor for all types of dementia. Consult with a doctor about safe levels of alcohol consumption.
Myth #10: Alzheimer’s disease is unrelated to other health conditions.
Fact: Many common health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, stress, sleep problems, hearing and vision loss, and gum disease, can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s. Regular medical check-ups, following doctor’s recommendations, and managing these conditions can help preserve brain health and even slow the progression of memory loss.