(BrightFocus Foundation) While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, research shows that age and genetics are potential risk factors. Learn more about what choices you can make that may help prevent you from getting this disease.
Although nobody knows for sure what causes Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have identified two known risk factors: age and genetics.
The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases as you get older. An estimated 5 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have Alzheimer’s, but that number jumps to almost 50 percent if you are over the age of 85. The majority of Alzheimer’s patients in the Unites States have late-onset Alzheimer’s, which typically develops after the age of 60.
Research suggests that late-onset Alzheimer’s disease is not inherited. Scientists have not found a specific gene mutation that causes this form, but there have been cases of late-onset within the same family. That’s one reason why scientists continue to study how genes can affect this form of the disease.
A rare form of Alzheimer’s that affects younger patients is known as early-onset. It occurs in no more than 5 percent of cases and tends to develop before the age of 60. Studies show that in most cases it does run in families. This inherited form of early-onset is known as Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD).
More on Familial Alzheimer’s Disease (FAD)
FAD is caused by any one of a number of different gene mutations on certain chromosomes (i.e., 1, 14, and 21). If a parent carries even a single genetic mutation for FAD, their children have a 50/50 chance of inheriting that mutation. If the mutation is inherited, the child is almost certain to develop FAD.
Read our Question & Answer to learn more about how genes play a role.
Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
Today, there isn’t a proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But there is research that suggests making certain healthy lifestyle choices could help improve your quality of life.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Researchers are trying to understand if how we eat and what types of food we eat will lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Eating a diet high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish, and low in sugar and fat—such as the Mediterranean Diet—can reduce the incidence of many chronic diseases such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Will this also protect against Alzheimer’s? Large human clinical trials will have to be done. While scientists pursue more evidence, you may find that eating well increases your greater overall health.
Exercise Your Body and Mind
Physical exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and some studies suggest that it can improve cognitive agility. For an Alzheimer’s patient, exercise may also help maintain muscle strength, decrease frailty, and elevate mood.
Some research suggests that “exercising our brain,” through activities like reading, learning a musical instrument, or playing chess, can help protect people from cognitive decline later in life. Again, rigorous clinical trials will be required to prove this is true. In the meantime, learning new skills and activities may, at a minimum, enrich your life. Learn more about healthy living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Decrease Risk of Head Trauma
We are learning from people with battlefield or sports injuries that past traumatic head injury may be associated with Alzheimer’s. Your risk increases if the injury involved you losing consciousness, or if you’ve had multiple head injuries from playing contact sports. This discovery is fueling public health efforts to improve the protective quality of helmets, and reduce the rates of head injuries, in certain sports.
NIA Information on Risk Factors and Prevention
- 2014-2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Progress Report: Advancing Research Toward a Cure
- Participating in Activities You Enjoy—More Than Just Fun and Games: Tips From the National Institute on Aging
- Brain Health Resource
- Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Unraveling the Mystery
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National Institute on Aging