If you’re anything like me, you’ve looked at your family history of health, illnesses, and longevity and wondered, “How will I end up? Will I have high blood pressure, too? What can I do to reduce my risk of developing certain diseases?” This often leads me to take the next step of continuing to exercise regularly or eat a few more fruits and vegetables to reduce my risk of developing those health challenges.
If your family’s health history includes Alzheimer’s disease, you may wonder how likely it is that you’ll develop this disease. Is dementia genetic?
I recently received this question from a reader. She stated that her mother and aunt both had passed away from Alzheimer’s and wondered if she was going to get dementia since they both did.
The Role of Family History
There is a family history component to the development of Alzheimer’s. In other words, you are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s if you have relatives with Alzheimer’s. If multiple family members have Alzheimer’s, your risk increases.
- Risk Genes
There are multiple risk genes tied to Alzheimer’s. Risk genes are those that if you carry them, they increase your risk of developing the disease. However, not everyone with those genes will develop Alzheimer’s.
The strongest risk gene is apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE-e4). APOE-e4 is one of the three APOE genes that everyone inherits from their mother and father. If you inherit APOE-e4 from one parent, you are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. If you inherit APOE-04 from both parents, your risk increases even more. However, it remains only a risk- not a certainty that you will develop Alzheimer’s.
- Deterministic Genes
Deterministic genes for Alzheimer’s are those that when inherited, they cause (or determine that) the disease to develop. Deterministic genes typically cause Alzheimer’s to develop earlier in life and are often passed on to children. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are only a few hundred extended families worldwide with these genes. This early onset dementia is called autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease (ADAD) or familial Alzheimer’s disease.
Another Risk Factor: Age
In addition to genetics and family history, another risk factor is age. Alzheimer’s is more prevalent as people age.
Reducing Your Risk
There are also many things you can do to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, including diet, physical exercise, and staying mentally active.
Updated September 03, 2013. By Esther Heerema
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