According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease affects over five million people in the U.S. and eliminating the disease would save more than half a million lives every year. Though the cause of Alzheimer’s still eludes researchers, it has been linked to certain genetic factors. Learn more about how scientists continue to examine these inherited factors.
Although most people believe they are the same, there is a difference between genetic and hereditary traits. Your genes make you who you are, where your hereditary traits, like eye and hair color, are passed down from generation to generation. Both play a large role in determining how likely we are to develop a disease.
Genes, Heredity and Alzheimer’s Disease
Medical News Today explains that our genes determine what we look like, how we behave and how we survive. They can make us susceptible to certain diseases and conditions, like Alzheimer’s, depending on whether we develop those conditions.
How our genes interact with each other and on environmental factors has a large role in determining if we are likely to develop the disease, as does inherited traits, according to Healthline. People whose immediate family members have Alzheimer’s have been found to be at a higher risk of developing the disease.
Scientists believe Alzheimer’s results from a combination of genetic and hereditary traits, meaning some of these factors we can change, but others, such as our genes, we cannot. Here are two categories of genes that researchers have linked to Alzheimer’s:
- Risk genes increase your likelihood for a disease but do not guarantee you will have it. The strongest risk gene for Alzheimer’s is called apolipoprotein E-e (APOE-e4). Studies indicate that this gene may factor into 20-25% of Alzheimer’s cases. If you inherit APOE-e4 from one parent, your risk for Alzheimer’s increases. Inheriting it from both parents makes your risks go up even higher, but it is still not a certainty.
- Deterministic genes cause a disease or disorder and guarantee you will develop it if you inherit these genes. Research shows that gene variations in three proteins, amyloid precursor protein (APP), presenilin-1 (PS-1) and presenilin-2 (PS-2), will result in Alzheimer’s disease. Also called familial Alzheimer’s disease, deterministic gene variations often affect many family members in multiple generations, and symptoms typically develop before age 60. However, this form of Alzheimer’s accounts for fewer than 5% of cases.
Alzheimer’s Risk Factors You Can Change
Even if you have no family history or genetic risk of Alzheimer’s, other health issues, such as brain injury and cardiovascular disease, can increase your chances of having dementia.
For instance, your odds of having the disease increase if you suffer from:
- Head trauma that results from vehicle accidents, sports injuries and falls can put you at greater risk for Alzheimer’s. Buckle your seatbelt, wear your helmet and take precautions in your home to prevent falls for you and senior loved ones.
- Certain conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or history of stroke may increase your chances for developing Alzheimer’s. Follow your doctor’s instructions for preventing or treating any damage to your heart or blood vessels.
More Alzheimer’s Research is Needed
Experts continue to research the complex biological and environmental factors that influence Alzheimer’s disease, but, if you are concerned about your risks, talk to your doctor about your family history and other health concerns that you may have.
Early detection is crucial to getting the maximum benefits of treatment, and it can give you more time and more say in planning for your future.
Has heredity been a factor in your loved one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis? Please share your story in the comments below.