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A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition. There are still many questions regarding the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease, so risk factors are still being identified.

It is possible to develop Alzheimer’s disease with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include:

Age

Age is the most important known risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years beyond age 65 until age 85. By age 85, almost 50% of all people have the disease.

Gender

Alzheimer’s disease affects both men and women. Women may have a slightly higher risk of developing the disease than men. Some experts believe that this is because women live longer than men.

Genetic Factors

Individuals with a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s disease have a two- to three-times risk of developing the disease compared to the rest of the population. In addition, there has been a clear genetic link established for an early-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease. This form of the disease occurs in people during their 30s, 40s, and early 50s. However, a specific gene has not yet been identified. One gene that has been implicated as being a major risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease is the ApoE4 gene. Additional genes likely play a role in the increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists continue to study the role of genetic factors in the development of this disease.

Medical Conditions
  • Head injury —There are some studies that suggest that people who suffered a serious, traumatic head injury at some time in their lives may be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Vascular risk factors. These may be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Down syndrome —Nearly all people with Down syndrome who live to be age 40 or older develop Alzheimer’s disease.
  • High cholesterol and high blood pressure
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency —Low levels of the vitamin B12 and folate have been linked to a development of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Overweight or obese
  • Diabetes
Mental Activity and Education

Some research has suggested that people who have higher education levels and continue to be mentally active and engaged in their later years are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. However, some experts suggest that this finding may be related to the fact that those with higher education levels tend to do better on the psychological tests used to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

Environment

Some theories suggest that Alzheimer’s disease may be linked to exposure to certain environmental factors, such as toxins, certain viruses and bacteria, certain metals, or electromagnetic fields. Currently, there is no conclusive evidence to support these theories.

References:

Alzheimer's disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 19, 2013. Accessed September 6, 2013.

Alzheimer's disease medications fact sheet. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/Publications/medicationsfs.htm. Updated July 22, 2013. Accessed September 6, 2013.

Hayden KM, Welsh-Bohmer KA. Epidemiology of cognitive aging and Alzheimer’s disease: contributions of the Cache County Utah study of memory, health, and aging. Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2012;10:3-31.

Mortimer JA. The Nun Study: risk factors for pathology and clinico-pathologic correlations. Curr Alzheim Res. 2012.

Risk factors. Alzheimer’s Association website. Available at: http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_factors.asp. Accessed September 6, 2013.

Shulman JM, Chen K, et al. Genetic susceptibility for Alzheimer’s disease neuritic plaque pathology. JAMA Neurol. 2013:1-7. [Epub ahead of print]

8/23/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Ritchie K, Carrière I, Ritchie CW, Berr C, Artero S, Ancelin ML. Designing prevention programmes to reduce incidence of dementia: prospective cohort study of modifiable risk factors. BMJ. 2010;341:c3885.

Last reviewed September 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


 
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