Neurologist dispels myths about Alzheimer's disease

A neurologist is breaking down myths and providing some hope for people with Alzheimer's disease, defining the illness as a kind of spectrum disorder.

"Alzheimer's is really a disease with multiple different presentations, multiple different courses in people. It's as individual as the person who gets the illness and many of the people with Alzheimer's live productive, functional lives in the community," said Dr. Gayatri Devi of New York's Lenox Hill Hospital on "CBS This Morning." Devi is out with a new book called "The Spectrum of Hope: An Optimistic and New Approach to Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias," which details a plan to help patients live more empowered and productive lives.

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Spectrum of Hope by Gayatri Devi, M.D.

An estimated 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia. That's about one in 10 adults aged 65 and older. A majority of those with the disease stay within their communities, Devi said.

"Basically 97 percent of patients with mild Alzheimer's disease don't even get diagnosed in their internist offices, and half of patients with moderate Alzheimer's don't get diagnosed," Devi said. "What that means is that the percentage of people that we think about when we think about Alzheimer's — the people in the nursing home — that's a very, very small fraction of the entirety of the people who have the condition."

One of the myths Devi debunks is that Alzheimer's treatment has no effect.

"That's absolutely untrue. I've worked in this area for 23 years, treatment does make a difference, patients do benefit from it. It depends on the individual patient," Devi said.

Devi also said, in most cases, genetics has little to do with it.

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Dr. Gayatri Devi 

CBS News

"Less than 5 percent of Alzheimer's cases are from genetics. The majority of Alzheimer's can be prevented by lifestyle changes and modifications. Simple things like diet. Make sure that you're eating a diet that's good for your heart. A Mediterranean diet, which is good for your heart, it's also a good anti-Alzheimer's diet. Make sure that you are – your lifestyle, that you're active. Exercise 30 minutes three times a week," Devi said. "You can prevent up to 60 percent of Alzheimer's cases."

Controlling risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes is also important.

And while there's currently no way to reverse Alzheimer's, Devi said, "we can certainly stop progression."

Like colonoscopies and mammograms, Devi said she thinks everyone over the age of 50 should have "baseline brain evaluations" including "a map of our brain strengths and weaknesses." That way, "we can actually look back and say, look, it's about the same as it was 10 years ago, nothing to worry about. But if there's a problem, we can intervene earlier. The earlier we intervene, the better the response to treatment."

If a doctor does diagnose Alzheimer's in you or a loved one, Devi advises being careful who you tell about the diagnosis.

"Because you don't want to be stigmatized. And we're all human beings. We're social creatures. We're going to respond to how people treat us," Devi said. "So if people don't treat us as competent beings, which is sometimes what happens when they hear the diagnosis Alzheimer's, you're going to respond in a more diffident way. So I think it's important to be careful who to tell and how you tell. Because I've had patients get fired from their jobs and they're just as good as someone else who doesn't have the illness and sometimes way better."