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Is Alzheimer’s Hereditary?

Maybe you have a family member who has developed Alzheimer’s and you’re wondering what the chances are that you may find yourself facing the disease. Or, you may have concerns about your children if you or your spouse has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. You’re not alone. Many people wonder the exact same thing.

The good news is that most dementias are not inherited. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, ninety-nine percent of Alzheimer’s cases are non-hereditary and that having someone in the family with Alzheimer’s only slightly increases the chances of later generations developing the disease.

The most important risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is age; therefore, if longevity runs in your family, that may be the reason more people in your family seem to develop Alzheimer’s than in other families … because people in your family are living longer.

Dementia Statistics

Let’s look at some statistics concerning age and dementia. One out a thousand people under the age of 60 will develop dementia. For people aged 60-64, the numbers increase to 1 out of 100. For those aged 65-69, the odds double to 2 out of 100. For those 70-74, the odds almost double again to 3 out of 100. They double to 6 out 100 for those who fall into the 75-79 age group, and yet again almost double to 11 out of 100 for those who are 80-84. For those who are 85-89, the odds increase yet again to 18 out of 100. At 90-94 years of age, 30 out of 100 people will develop Alzheimer’s and 41 out of 100 for those over the age of 94. It’s easy to see from these numbers that living longer means that you will have a greater chance of developing dementia and, subsequently, Alzheimer’s since Alzheimer’s is the number one cause of dementia. So, if you inherit genes that enable you to live longer, you may have a greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s.

But age isn’t the only factor that affects how likely you are to develop dementia.

Back to the question, is Alzheimer’s hereditary? Although most cases of dementia are not inherited, certain genes may make us more vulnerable and increase our risk of developing dementia.

Currently, four sets of genes have been linked to dementia. The best understood “risk” gene is ApoE4. If you have this gene, then you have a greater risk of developing dementia and your risk increases even further if you receive a copy of the gene from both parents. Let’s look at the statistics. As we stated earlier, 6 out of 100 people who are 75 years old will develop dementia and this is true for those who have no copies of the ApoE4 gene. For those who have one copy of the ApoE4 gene, 11 out of 100 will develop dementia. For those who have two copies of the ApoE4 gene, the numbers increase to 18 out of 100. However, inheriting two copies of the gene is quite rare – less than 2% of the population will. And, if you do, it doesn’t mean dementia is inevitable. Only half of the people with Alzheimer’s have the ApoE4 gene and not everyone with the gene develops the disease.

Lifestyle Choices and Dementia

Lifestyle choices, however, have a much greater impact on increasing or decreasing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Mental stimulation, socialization (being around others), exercise and maintaining a healthy weight may work to protect you from developing dementia.

Drinking too much and smoking can increase your chances of developing dementia. Six out of 100 non-smoking 75-year-old individuals will develop dementia (same baseline as before), but 9 out of 100 smokers will develop dementia. Quitting smoking pays off though, lowering the numbers back down to 6 out of 100.

Other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, increase your chances of developing dementia. For someone with diabetes, the chances increase from 6 out of 100 to 10 out of 100 for a 75-year-old.

Other lifestyle choices, such as getting lots of exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet, can prevent diabetes and reduce your chances of developing dementia as well.

There also appears to be a strong connection between serious head injury and a risk of developing Alzheimer’s, especially when the trauma to the head occurs repeatedly or loss of consciousness is involved. To protect yourself, it’s best to wear a helmet during sports participation, wear your seatbelt in vehicles and fall-proof your home.

Strong evidence also suggests brain health is linked to heart health. This makes sense since the brain’s extensive network of blood vessels keep it nourished and healthy. The risk of developing vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s disease seems to be increased by various conditions that damage the blood vessels and the heart, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It’s best to do all you can to keep your heart healthy and to work with your doctor to treat any problems that arise.

Can Alzheimer’s Be Inherited?

While Alzheimer’s can be inherited, the number of cases that are genetically based are extremely rare, less than one percent of all Alzheimer’s disease cases. Typically, these cases are early-onset Alzheimer’s which develops much earlier in life, even as early as in a person’s 30s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is also known as familial Alzheimer’s disease due to its propensity for running in families.
Research has shown that certain nationalities are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias which also suggests a genetic component. Older Latinos are one-and-a-half times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s and older African-Americans are twice as likely as their older white counterparts. Although the exact reason is not understood, it is believed to be linked to these groups of people having higher rates of vascular disease which puts them at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Memory Care in Concord, NH

If you have any questions, we would love to help. Contact us here at Havenwood Heritage Heights and we’ll be happy to answer your questions. We offer innovative memory care in Concord, NH and work hard to meet the needs of residents and their families.

By Mike Wall

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