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1.6 Bust dementia myths

Don’t be trapped by stereotypes of dementia

Many people have self-stigma about dementia. This means they feel bad or ashamed about themselves because they have dementia. In contrast, people who have other chronic diseases like arthritis or heart disease are less likely to feel ashamed. This self-stigma is often due to the myths and stereotypes about dementia learnt from television, books, movies, the news and society.

Let’s bust some of these myths and stereotypes.

Myth: People with dementia are victims suffering from the disease

  • Fact: Many people with dementia have control, are comfortable, content and even happy.

The common stereotype of people with dementia is they are victims suffering from a brain disease that robs them of their memories, identity and life. People with dementia are often shown on television, in books and described in the news as powerless, dependent and requiring compassion and care.

Many people with dementia do not meet this stereotype. While they do have a brain disease, and may have problems with memory and concentration, they know who they are and remember important things. Many people with dementia do a lot for themselves and for others and are in control of their lives, even if they get help for some tasks.

Unfortunately, many people in the community (including doctors and other health care professionals) also learned this stereotype of people with dementia. This means doctors and other professionals might treat you as if you can’t understand or make decisions. They might talk to your family instead of directly to you, or not give you information and choices.

You are not the stereotyped suffering victim of dementia. You are you.

Ask your doctors to treat you as they would their other patients without dementia, talking to you as a person with rights to information and choices about treatments.

Myth: People with dementia cannot learn

  • Fact: People with dementia continue to learn.

Some people with dementia will have poor short-term memory. This means they can’t remember things that happened recently. It can take longer and requires more effort to learn new things, but people with dementia do learn. For instance, many people with dementia learned to use Zoom along with everyone else during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It can be stressful or confronting when you have to learn something new. Some people with dementia find it frustrating and sometimes avoid learning situations. If you are about to embark on new learning, take your time, use tools (like pencil and paper) and get help when you need it.

Myth: Nothing can be done for people with dementia

  • Fact: There are many treatments and strategies that can slow progression and help with symptoms.

For more information, read the pages in the section Managing changes.