By Ron Mori
More than six million people in the United States suffer from various types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and sadly, those numbers are growing at an alarming rate. If you are a millennial reading this article, in just 12 years, the first millennials will be turning 49. Gen Xers will begin turning 65, and the first boomers will be turning 84 — an age at which dementia is most prevalent. By 2030, there are projected to be 82 million people suffering from dementia according to the World Health Organization.
Yes, it’s time to understand some facts and myths around dementia.
Last month, AARP released findings from a study to explore the level of awareness of facts and myths about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia among adults age 18 and older. More than nine in 10 (92 percent) adults believe that Alzheimer’s disease is a serious problem in our country today, and two-thirds (68 percent) of adults said they know someone who has had Alzheimer’s disease or dementia or another disease causing cognitive decline.
Despite this high level of exposure to dementia and other diseases affecting cognitive ability, awareness of some key characteristics of these conditions is sometimes low.
Here are some common perceptions and misperceptions:
A majority (61 percent) of adults know that “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s disease” are not interchangeable terms for the same disease.
Dementia is not a mental illness, but nearly six in 10 (59 percent) adults age 18 and older believe it is.
Three-quarters (75 percent) of adults believe that memory loss is a normal and natural part of aging.
While it is normal for aging adults to forget a name or date, this type of information is typically recalled later; however, it is not normal to forget where you live, for example.
Here are some facts about the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia:
Relatively few adults (36 percent) have been asked questions about their cognition during a check-up with their doctor. A higher percentage (44 percent) of adults age 65 or older have been asked.
Nearly half (49 percent) of adults incorrectly believe that treatments are available to slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Two-thirds (67 percent) of adults age 18 and older incorrectly believe Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed with a single test. In fact, diagnosis is a multistep process.
Dementia also takes a devastating emotional, financial and physical toll on the families of those who are diagnosed with these ailments. In 2016, nearly 16 million family members and friends provided more than 18 billion hours of unpaid caregiving assistance to those with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
While research is underway to find treatments and a cure, AARP offers resources and tools on its website for the 16.1 million Americans who care for people living with dementia.
AARP works to improve the communities in which people with dementia and their caregivers live by working with leaders and local governments across the U.S. to adopt “age-friendly” guidelines and develop resources.
AARP also founded the Global Council on Brain Health to help people strengthen their brain health and minimize their risk of dementia. And, AARP is part of the National Advisory Council for Dementia Friendly America.
To access information available to family caregivers, visit: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/care-guides/dementia.
To join the conversation on social media, use AARP’s official campaign hashtag, #DisruptDementia.
Ron Mori is a member of the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.