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November 17, 2016

Is Alzheimer’s Disease Genetic?

As you age, you might find yourself wondering, “If someone in my family had Alzheimer’s, will I get it, too?”

For people whose parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling had the disease, this is a common concern. There are many factors that play into whether a person develops Alzheimer’s disease, and genes could play a role.

Can Certain Genes Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?

This is a complex question. While doctors and researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes the disease, they do know that having certain genes is a risk factor in combination with lifestyle and environmental factors. Late-onset and early-onset Alzheimer’s have two different genetic risk factors.

Scientists and doctors know a gene called APOE is often involved in the onset of Alzheimer’s. A different form of the APOE gene can increase your risk for late onset Alzheimer’s. However, it’s important to note that just because you may have the APOE gene, that doesn’t mean you will develop the disease. Similarly, if you lack the APOE gene, you could still develop Alzheimer’s.

In early onset Alzheimer’s—when the disease develops before age 65—most cases are caused by an inherited change in one of three genes. This results in what’s known as familial Alzheimer’s disease and is passed from parent to child.

Are There Tests to Detect These Genes and Mutations?

According to the National Institutes on Aging, there is no test that can determine whether you will develop late-onset Alzheimer’s. If you have concerns about your brain health, talk with your doctor. Let him or her know if any family members have had the disease.

There is a test that can detect if you have a gene mutation that can result in familial Alzheimer’s. If you have a family history of the disease, and want to get tested, talk with your doctor or a genetic counselor.

Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease

If you develop Alzheimer’s disease, medication may help slow the progression of symptoms. These medicines work best on people who have mild or moderate symptoms, and help maintain thinking, memory or speaking skills or help control behavioral symptoms.

Reducing Your Risk

While there’s no cure for late-onset and familial Alzheimer’s there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing it:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • If you smoke, stop
  • If you have type 2 diabetes, take steps to control it
  • Get plenty of rest

In addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you can participate in a clinical trial. These trials benefit the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s and include healthy individuals as well as those with the disease.

Understanding the role genetics, your environment and your health play in developing Alzheimer’s can help you better understand the disease as well as specific steps you can take to protect your brain health. Get a better understanding of how genetics affects Alzheimer’s in this booklet from the National Institute on Aging.

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