Understanding Your Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease

Feb 09, 2023
Understanding Your Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease
As you watch older people lose their memory, you may worry that you’ll develop dementia, too. Alzheimer’s disease and its cognitive problems aren’t a normal part of aging, however. Know your risk factors so you can work to preserve your brain health.

Other than cancer, Alzheimer’s disease is the most feared disease in the United States. That fear isn’t limited to middle-aged or elderly people, either. Women and men of all ages worry that one day they may lose their memories, ability to think, and even their identity, to Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for about 60-80% of cases

Dementia is marked by the loss of cognitive abilities and the ability to retrieve old memories or store new ones. In AD, abnormal proteins, inflammation, and other factors kill neurons in the brain, first attacking those associated with memory.

Despite jokes about “senior moments” and the expectation in our culture that older people will become “senile,” no form of dementia is a normal part of aging, including AD. 

At Precise Research Centers, led by Joseph Kwentus, MD, and Karen Richardson, PhD, we stay on the cutting edge of AD research, prevention, and treatment. 

Are you at risk for AD? Following are some of the most common risk factors, as well as advice about what to do about them.

Family history of AD

Probably the most terrifying part of AD is watching someone you know and love lose their identity and their capabilities to dementia. You’re at increased risk for AD if a first-degree relative — such as a sibling or parent — developed the disease.

If you have a variation in the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene — APOE e4 — you may have a 2-3 times increased risk for AD. About 15-25% of people have at least one APOE e4 gene.

However, you inherit APOE from both parents. If both of your APOE genes are the APOE e4 variation, your risk for AD jumps to 8-12 times that of the general population.

Fortunately, even having two copies of APOE e4 doesn’t necessarily doom you to AD. It can, however, make you more aware of taking charge of your brain health by focusing on healthy foods, brain-building exercise (both cardio and resistance), as well as exercising your brain itself by learning a new language or engaging in other brain-building activities.

Older age

Just as you can’t control what kind of genes you inherit, you can’t stop your body from aging. Older age is probably the greatest risk factor for AD. Most women and men who develop AD are 65 years or older.

Every five years after age 65, your risk for AD doubles. By age 85, however, about one third are at risk for AD.

However, AD doesn’t manifest suddenly. It’s a gradual disease that may take decades before it causes symptoms. That's why it’s never too early to take your brain health seriously and make the changes to your lifestyle that could protect you from the disease or slow its progression.

Being female

Almost two thirds of the approximately 6.2 million people with AD in the United States are women. In fact, AD is twice as common in women than it is in men.

Women are at increased risk because they tend to live longer than men do. However, even in comparisons between long-lived women and men, women’s rates of AD were higher. Researchers still aren’t sure why women are at increased risk, but it may have something to do with their immune systems. 

Women tend to have more robust immune systems than men. Research suggests that the abnormal amyloid plaques in an AD brain are actually created by the immune system as a way to protect the brain from attack by toxins or infections.

Suffering TBIs

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) could also raise your risk for AD. Most TBIs occur during a car crash or fall. Athletes are at increased risk, especially those who suffer head injuries as a result of their sport, such as boxers and football players.

Even if you don’t lose consciousness when you’re hit in the head, you could still suffer a concussion. Be sure to get evaluated medically after any type of head injury.

A single TBI doesn’t necessarily raise your risk for AD significantly, but it should be another sign to pay special attention to brain health. If you’ve had multiple TBIs, be sure to monitor your brain health.

Lifestyle changes can help prevent or even slow down the progression of AD. We also offer treatments that delay disease and increase quality of life. In addition, you may be eligible to participate in a clinical trial for new medication.

To book an evaluation or treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, contact our office today by calling 601-685-3457 or booking an appointment online. You can also send a message to our team here on the website. If you’re interested in joining a clinical trial, please let us know.