Neurocognitive disorders are disorders with an acquired rather than a developmental impairment in cognitive function. This means that impaired cognition has not been present since birth or very early in life. These disorders include several subcategories such as delirium, NCD caused by Alzheimer’s disease, NCD caused by vascular disease, NCD caused by Parkinson’s disease, NCD caused by traumatic brain injury, NCD caused by HIV infection, NCD caused by drug or pharmaceutical use, and NCD caused by Huntington’s disease, among others.
Individuals who have NCDs, such as Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, frequently encounter inaccurate or false information about their disease. It is important to remember that Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent form of dementia, while dementia refers to an umbrella term reflecting a syndrome of memory loss and other cognitive changes that interfere with daily living. Below we shall address some misconceptions that people have about this condition.
Myth 1 – Dementia is a problem for the old
Many people have what is called a young-onset Alzheimer’s disease which constitutes developing symptoms before 65 years. Frontotemporal dementia is another form, that usually affects people between the ages of 40 and 65. Studies frequently target individuals in their 70s, but those in their 40s, 50s, and 60s may still present with notable concerns and issues.
Myth 2 – If you have memory loss, you probably have dementia
If you have memory loss, it only makes you human. Everyone forgets things; young people blame it on stress or lack of sleep. Older people are more likely to jump straight into the illness. It is normal to experience periods of forgetfulness as we get older. Every year, about 10% to 15% of cases of mild cognitive impairment (that includes changes in thinking and memory beyond those associated with normal ageing) progress to dementia diagnosis. Daily memory loss caused by dementia makes it difficult for a person to carry out tasks independently like preparing meals and other activities of daily living. With the aid of medication, even this type of memory loss may have reversible causes.
Myth 3 – People with dementia cannot learn new things
People living with dementia can continue to learn new patterns, abilities, and behaviours. A form of long-term automatic memory called ‘procedural memory’ has the tendency to remain intact for a significant amount of the disease’s duration. Through practice, motor memory, also known as ‘muscle memory,’ can help individuals learn new skills (painting) and maintain established ones (tying one’s shoes). Not all of the mental processes engaged in learning are disabled by dementia.
Above we went over a few misconceptions about neurocognitive disorders. The sooner a diagnosis is made for these illnesses, the greater the chance that treatment will be successful. Although current treatments, including medicines, cannot reverse symptoms, they might slow the progression. In some ways, dementia teaches one to enjoy life more and to focus on the present moment.
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Charlot Cauchi is a Gestalt Psychotherapist at Willingness. He has experience working with adult clients with mental health difficulties, anxiety and depression, loss and grief, traumatic experiences, stress and relational issues.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association.