Fact and Fiction about Alzheimer's

Reporter: Ann Komis
Web Producer: Mike Mardis

Nearly 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer's. It's a debilitating disease that boggles the mind and strips patients of their memory.

As the debate over what causes it continues, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction.

Melvin Zuckerman, 85, is a retired photographer who relies on pictures to jog his Alzheimer's riddled memory.

At first, Mel's wife thought his memory loss was normal.

"I blamed it more on his getting older, you know, which happens, people forget names when they get older," Adele Zuckerman, Mel's wife, said.

But Neurologist Jeffrey Cummings said that isn't the case.

Jeffrey Cummings MD, a Neurologist said, "The single most important thing about Alzheimer's Disease is that memory loss is not part of normal aging."

In fact, doctor Gary Small said forgetfulness may be a sign of mild cognitive impairment, which is not the same as Alzheimer's, but is a common precursor to the illness.

"About 10 percent of them will develop Alzheimer's disease within a year," Small said.

Many people wrongfully assume the disease is not life threatening.

"It is a fatal illness," Cummings said, "The fatality is complicated by the fact that the patient dies over a ten year period."

Doctors say exercise and antioxidant rich foods may help prevent Alzheimer's Disease, but steering clear of aluminum cans and cookware won't.

"As more information has accumulated," Cummings said, "it appears that aluminum plays little or no role causing Alzheimer's Disease."

What's the best cures for Alzheimer's Disease? There are none. While medication and mental exercises like 'brain games' can slow memory loss, there is no way to stop the illness.

Though, research does show support from a loved one makes a difference.

"The fact that I am married to Adele helps an enormous amount," Mel said.

Aspartame, a key ingredient in sugar-free gums and sodas, is not linked to increased incidence of Alzheimer's Disease, contrary to popular belief.