Who Develops Alzheimer's
There is no single factor which will determine if an individual will or will not develop Alzheimer's disease.
Instead, the chance of developing Alzheimer's is determined by a number of risk factors. Some of these risk factors are controllable, like heart health or substance use, and others are non-controllable, like age or family history.
Currently, researchers believe genetics and family history are one of the largest contributing factors.
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts
Risk factors interact to determine the total chance of developing Alzheimer's. Certain risk factors, like genetics and family history, increase the importance of managing others.
Genetics Is One of the Most Important Factors
Genes influence everything about us, from our hair color to what foods we like; genes can also determine how vulnerable you are to the other causes of Alzheimer's.
Scientists have discovered a specific gene, ApoE, which greatly increases the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's. Individuals with this gene should take greater care to manage their other risk factors.
Individuals can determine if they have the ApoE gene with a simple mouth-swab test which is performed at home.
Learn More: Who Should Be Tested For The Alzheimer's Gene
You Are More Likely To Develop Alzheimer's the Older You Become
Age is currently the best predictor of Alzheimer's and dementia. Beginning at age 65, the probability of showing symptoms of Alzheimer's doubles every five years. At age 65 nearly 1 in 10 people will have Alzheimer's or dementia, by the age of 85, more than 30% of people will have developed the disease.
While symptoms generally appear later in life, the changes in the brain which result in the disease begin many years earlier. The lifestyle and habits of a 40 year old individual will significantly influence their chance of developing Alzheimer's 20 years later.
Women are More Likely to Develop Alzheimer's than Men
Women have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and once developed, the disease progresses faster in women than in men.
While it is well known that there are differences between the brains of males and brains and females, it is not completely understood why Alzheimer's affects women differently from men.
It's important for women, especially those with a family history, to be proactive in preventing Alzheimer's.
Learn More: Women and Alzheimer's
Medical Conditions (Diabetes, High Blood Pressure)
The health of the heart and the brain are closely linked. The heart is responsible for providing the brain with fresh blood which the brain uses to create new cells, maintain existing ones, and clean out harmful waste products.
Studies have shown that individuals with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, or a history of strokes are at a 30 to 50 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer's.
If you have been diagnosed with one of the conditions above it is important to monitor and treat them. If you are unaware of your blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetic status you should consider an appointment with your general practitioner.
During sleep, the brain repairs and prepares itself for the next day. Part of this process involves removing the waste products created by the brain's normal functions during the day. The brains of individuals who frequently suffer from poor sleep, especially those affected by a chronic disease like sleep apnea, are unable to sufficiently remove these waste products.
While the occasional night of poor sleep isn't a cause for concern, individuals whom regularly suffer from poor sleep are at a higher risk of Alzheimer's.
Learn More: Sleep and Alzheimer's
Vitamin Deficiencies Damage the Brain
Vitamins and nutrients are the fuel the brain uses to maintain itself. It requires certain vitamins and nutrients to repair itself, clean out waste products, and create new brain cells. As we age our bodies become less efficient at creating these vitamins. When the brain does not receive these nutrients, especially for long periods of time, brain damage can occur.
Studies have linked several nutrient deficiencies with a significantly increased risk of of Alzheimer's and dementia.
An international research team found that adults whom were moderately deficient in Vitamin D had a 53% increased chance of developing dementia, while those severely deficient had an increased risk of 125% of developing dementia.
Learn More: Vitamins and Alzheimer's
Smoking damages both the heart and the brain. Evidence has shown that smokers have smaller brain sizes than non-smokers and have increased rates of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Fortunately, individuals who quit smoking are generally able to lower their risk of Alzheimer's and reverse much of the damage.
Learn More: Smoking and Alzheimer's
Regular Users of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are a commonly prescribed drug used to treat anxiety, agitation and difficulty sleeping.
Research has shown that individuals who had taken a benzodiazepine for 3 to 6 months increased their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 32% and those who had taken it for more than six months increased their risk by 84%.
Learn More: Benzodiazepines and Alzheimer's
Over-consumers of Alcohol
While moderate drinkers may actually have a lower risk of Alzheimer's and dementia, individuals who regularly over-consume alcohol may increase their risk of developing Alzheimer's or dementia by more than 300%.
Frequent over-consumption of alcohol was found to be very common in those diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
Learn More: Alcohol and Alzheimer's