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Is There a Genetic Link to Alzheimer's Disease?

February 18, 2016

Is There a Genetic Link to Alzheimer's Disease?

The number of seniors living with Alzheimer’s is growing. The disease affects more Indiana families every day. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one out of nine American’s over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease caused by the development of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, impairing the organ’s connection to nerve cells. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, memory loss, speech impairment and irritability. Physicians use tests including written assessments and CT scans to diagnose the disease.

If a senior you love has Alzheimer’s, you may find yourself wondering and worrying about its genetic ties. Research seems to indicate a genetic component exists in both early-onset and late-onset stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Early-onset Alzheimer’s is rare, accounting for only about five percent of those diagnosed according to the National Institute on Aging. It occurs when someone under the age of 65 develops the disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, scientists identify three genes mutations that, if inherited from your parents, may cause you to develop Alzheimer’s symptoms between the ages of 30 and 60.

The genes at risk of mutation include Amyloid precursor protein (APP), Presenilin 1 (PSEN1) and Presenilin 2 (PSEN2). Mutations in these genes create an excess of amyloid-beta peptide, which collect in the brain and form plaques. These amyloid plaques kill brain cells, causing the organ to shrink. When the brain shrinks, it starts to shut down. The result can be Alzheimer’s disease.

Familial Alzheimer’s Disease

Early-onset familial Alzheimer's disease (FAD), as portrayed in the movie Still Alice, occurs early and frequently in families with a particular genetic mutation, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Researchers have discovered that these families share flaws in genes on chromosomes 1 and 14. Some families have a flaw in one gene on chromosome 21, which is the chromosome that causes Down Syndrome.

Alzheimer’s research shows that there is a link to Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. Many individuals with Down Syndrome develop dementia-like symptoms as they age. These symptoms occur in younger years, compared to those who develop Alzheimer’s without Down Syndrome.

Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Nearly 95 percent of Alzheimer’s cases represent the late-onset type. It begins in adults older than 65. In a later life diagnosis, there are many suspected causes of the disease. Most of which are unrelated to genetics.

According to the Mayo Clinic, if there is a genetic link, however, the most common gene associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s is the apolipoprotein E (APOE)

Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease

While researchers continue to explore the link between genetics and Alzheimer’s, it’s important to understand that genetics is not the only potential cause of the disease. Lifestyle can play a significant role in the development of the Alzheimer’s.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean protein may help. As can engaging in exercise at least five days a week. Keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar in check are also important. While your genetics may predispose you to Alzheimer’s, these steps might help you delay or prevent it.