How to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is not a part of normal aging, but risk increases with age. After age 65, risk doubles about every five years. Nearly half of those over age 85 have Alzheimer’s. People with rare genetic changes that guarantee they’ll develop Alzheimer’s often begin experiencing symptoms in their 40s or 50s.
Family History and Genetics
Risk of developing Alzheimer’s is higher if a first-degree relative — parent, sibling, or child — has the disease. Scientists have identified rare changes (mutations) in three genes that guarantee a person will develop Alzheimer’s. These mutations account for less than 5 percent of Alzheimer’s disease. Most genetic mechanisms of Alzheimer’s among families remain largely unexplained. The strongest risk gene researchers have found so far is apolipoprotein e4 (APOE-e4). Other risk genes have been identified but not conclusively confirmed.
Women may be more likely than are men to develop Alzheimer’s disease, in part because they live longer.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
People with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have memory problems or other symptoms of cognitive decline that are worse than might be expected for their age, but not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia. Those with MCI have an increased risk — but not a certainty — of later developing dementia.
Lifestyle and Heart Health
There’s no lifestyle factor that’s been conclusively shown to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Evidence suggests that the same risk factors for heart disease may increase the risk for Alzheimer’s. Examples include:
Lack of exercise
High blood pressure
Poorly controlled diabetes
These risk factors are also linked to vascular dementia, a type of cognitive decline caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain. Many people with cognitive decline have brain changes characteristic of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Some researchers think that each condition helps fuel the damage caused by the other.
Activities that may reduce risk include:
Lifelong learning and social engagement
Studies have found an association between lifelong involvement in mentally and socially stimulating activities and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Other factors that may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s include:
Higher levels of formal education
A stimulating job
Mentally challenging leisure activities, such as reading, playing games, or playing a musical instrument
Frequent social interactions
Scientists can’t yet explain this link. One theory is that using your brain develops more cell-to-cell connections, which protects the brain against the impact of Alzheimer-related changes. Another theory is that it may be harder to measure cognitive decline in people who exercise their minds frequently or who have more education. Still another explanation is that people with Alzheimer’s disease may be less inclined to seek out stimulating activities years before their disease can be diagnosed.
“Alzheimer’s Disease | Symptoms | Causes | Complications | Treatments | Prevention.” MeSted, 6 May 2012, medsted.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/alzheimers-disease-symptoms-causes-complications-treatments-prevention/.
“How to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.” YouTube, uploaded by Howcast, 17 Sep. 2010, www.youtube.com/watch?v=yobKsipfTbY.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Alzheimer’s Disease: Overview.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 30 Dec. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447.