The other day I read an article about health and longevity that contained the assertion, “The single biggest cause of Alzheimer’s Disease is aging.” This is absolutely wrong, and it represents a logical fallacy that we see all too often among so-called experts and suppliers of products and therapies that they claim will reverse, slow, or even cure dementia.
The nature of this logical fallacy is to confuse coincidence with cause and effect. Coincidence, by definition, is, “a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.” When we jump to the conclusion that one caused the other, we have taken an illogical leap that can lead to misunderstandings and even harmful decisions.
This kind of assertion bothers me a lot because it creates unnecessary fear in our aging population. Yes, Alzheimer’s is “age related,” but it is not caused by the aging process. It is a specific identifiable disease of the brain that some will get, but many will not, no matter how old they become. The great majority of people live out their lives without contracting Alzheimer’s Disease.
In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in ten Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s. This means that 90 percent of people over the age of 65 do not have Alzheimer’s, which is a commanding majority.
It is true that the percentage of those with Alzheimer’s goes higher as we age beyond 65, but this does not mean that advancing age is causing it. It is simply evidence that what is causing dementia has had more time to develop. Age equals Alzheimer’s is not the equation.
It would be nice if we could make these simple one-on-one linkages, because then it would mean we are dealing with a simpler problem. But, at this juncture in our medical development, Alzheimer’s Disease and other causes of dementia are anything but simple. At present, research is leading us toward more questions and greater complexity; not yet toward solutions.
Alzheimer’s, we have believed for some time, is caused by “plaques” and “tangles” in the brain that interfere with neuro-connections that are basic to the brain’s function. However, we have learned that these abnormalities alone may not cause cognitive decline or the other symptoms associated with dementia.
First, many of us have the plaques and tangles years before any sign of dementia begins to emerge, and we have also found that there are people in the Alzheimer’s “age range;” 65 and older, who have the plaques and tangles but no symptoms of the disease.
So, what sets it off? What triggers the disease that results in the atrophy and devastation of the brain and its functions? We don’t yet know. While the plaques and tangles may be a precursor condition, they alone do not appear to be the cause.
I feel that too often our beliefs about Alzheimer’s are based on fear and opinion rather than logic and facts, and this can be very counterproductive to focusing on what we can do in the here-and-now to make life better for people, and their caregivers, living with dementia.
Teepa Snow, the dementia practitioner I study under, says, “Until there is a cure, there’s care!” At the current state of research, this statement should be our mandala;the focal point that directs our energy to helping others and achieving the things we can achieve.
I prefer to leave the discussion of cause and cure to the scientists and medical experts who are qualified for the task. I simply am not qualified in this field, but what I can do in the meantime is try to provide the resources, teach the techniques of effective care, and promote the philosophy of compassionate care that can help people today; not is some possibly distant future when we actually have a cure.
We all hope to see that day, but until then we have a lot of work to do to keep our loved ones with dementia safe, social, and with the dignity that provides them the best quality of life we possibly can. And the last thing we should be doing is telling the people living in their senior years that aging is going to give them Alzheimer’s!
Debbie Selsavage is a certified trainer in the Positive Approach to Care, a Certified Dementia Practitioner, and President of the Alzheimer’s Family Organization. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC, is dedicated to making life better for individuals and their caregivers who are living with dementia.
Until next time remember: “We all deserve the best”
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