Is There a Genetic Link to Alzheimer's Disease?

Sunrise Senior Living  |  November 19, 2019
Is There a Genetic Link to Alzheimer's Disease?
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If you watched a parent or other family elder struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, you’ve likely wondered if you’re at higher risk for developing it. That’s an understandable concern.

Each parent contributes genes to their children. These genes carry the coded information that determines which of our parents’ traits we inherit. They are in every one of the billions of cells that make up our bodies. If your mother is tall with blonde hair or your father has dark hair and green eyes, you might inherit those traits.

Unfortunately, our genetics determine more than our hair and eye color. They can also put us as higher risk for some diseases and health conditions. 

Genes and Alzheimer's Disease

There are two types of Alzheimer's disease: early-onset and late-onset. Researchers believe there is a genetic component to both.

The first type, early-onset Alzheimer's, isn't very common. It occurs in adults under the age of sixty-five and accounts for only about ten percent of all cases. Familial early-onset Alzheimer's is linked to three genes—APP, PSEN1, and PSEN2.

Combined, these genes account for less than one percent of all Alzheimer's cases but up to seventy percent of all early-onset Alzheimer's diagnoses. If either of your parents has these genes, your odds of developing early-onset Alzheimer's is about fifty-fifty.

While much remains a mystery about late-onset Alzheimer's disease, researchers believe a variety of factors contribute to it. Lifestyle, environment, and genetics are thought to play a role. A hereditary link to Alzheimer's has been detected in connection with a risk gene known as apolipoprotein E or APOE. 

APOE is found primarily in older adults. When present, the senior has a higher risk for developing late-onset Alzheimer's. It's important to know, however, that some people who have APOE never develop the disease. 

Lifestyle Factors That Contribute to Alzheimer’s

While you can’t change your genetics, you can adopt a lifestyle that might help you prevent or delay the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Get regular exercise: A growing amount of research seems to indicate regular exercise might help you avoid Alzheimer’s. Talk with your doctor about the types and amount of exercise that are best for your health.
  • Consume a healthy diet: Alzheimer’s prevention is another reason to make a well-balanced diet a priority. One to consider is the Mediterranean diet. It focuses on consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, and whole grains. People who live in the Mediterranean have lower incidences of both heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
  • Practice brain aerobics: A study published in JAMA Neurology highlighted how giving the brain a regular workout can help protect cognitive health. The sooner you get started, the greater the odds your brain will be protected. Activities that act as aerobics for your brain include learning a foreign language, mastering a musical instrument, reading, and playing board games.

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