With an estimated 5.2 million Americans having Alzheimer’s Disease, many are asking what causes this degenerative disease. While the exact causes of Alzheimer’s are unknown, there are a few known factors that put some individuals at a higher risk for developing the disease than others.
Age is the largest factor for determining risk of Alzheimer’s so that the older a person is, the more likely they are to have the disease. Almost 50% of adults over the age of 85 may have Alzheimer’s and the number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years after 65. While this is the largest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s, scientists do not fully understand why this relationship exists.
Individuals who have someone in their family with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop it themselves. Although, it is important to note that fewer than 1% of people with Alzheimer’s inherited the disease.
Genetics are often a better way to predict a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s than family history. There are a number of genes involved in determining the risk of Alzheimer’s and are categorized into either risk genes or deterministic genes. Risk genes increase the likelihood an individual will get the disease and deterministic genes directly cause a disease. To predict Alzheimer’s disease, scientists primarily look to see if an individual has the gene APOE-e4.
Knowing about the relationship between genes and Alzheimer’s helps scientists to determine risk as well as test treatment and prevention methods.
A person’s own medical history can play a role in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. People with Down Syndrome commonly develop Alzheimer’s at a young age and scientists are still looking at why that may be. In addition to Down Syndrome, people with other conditions including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are also at a higher risk.
Recent studies show that lifestyle factors may also play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s. Some scientists believe there is a link between Alzheimer’s Disease and head injuries. Other studies have shown a relationship between the disease and exposure to environmental toxins.
Do any of these factors call for a change in your lifestyle? Which ones?
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