When a senior loved one lives with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, it has a life-altering impact on the entire family. Watching someone you love suffer through the debilitating effects of the disease is heart-wrenching. And then there is the physical toll caregiving takes on adult children and other family caregivers. Caring for an older adult who has the disease is mentally and physically exhausting. For family members struggling through Alzheimer’s with a loved one, a concern that often pops up is whether or not they will inherit the disease.
The role genetics can play in Alzheimer’s remains unclear. What research seems to indicate is people who have a first degree relative with Alzheimer’s disease may be at higher risk.
The Genetics of Alzheimer’s Disease
Some dementia researchers believe genetics may indeed increase your risk for developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 30%. Having a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease appears to be where your gene pool comes in to the equation. The younger the family member was at the time of their diagnosis, the higher your personal risk.
Where the science is clearer is in cases of Early-onset Alzheimer’s. This form of the disease, also referred to as Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD), strikes adults between the ages of 30 and 60. Researchers have linked it to a gene mutation. An adult child of a parent with FAD has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the disease.
Steps to Take to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Age continues to be the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. After the age of 65, your risk for it doubles every five years. While researchers haven’t been able to figure out why that is, they do believe there are controllable risk factors.
Here are a few steps you can take that may help prevent or delay this disease:
- Have routine cholesterol screenings and work with your primary care physician to keep your cholesterol in the healthy range
- Monitor your blood pressure and follow your physician’s recommendations for preventing it from getting too high
- Be tested for diabetes —undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes increases your risk for Alzheimer’s
- Follow a Mediterranean style diet rich with vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, nuts and olive oil
- Get 30 minutes of brisk exercise most days of the week
Taking a proactive approach to managing your health may cut your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
One publication you might find helpful is the Alzheimer’s Prevention Guide from the National Institute on Aging. It is a free resource you can download to learn more about reducing your risk.
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