Alzheimer’s Disease: Is Alzheimer’s Hereditary?

Alzheimer’s Disease: Is Alzheimer’s Hereditary?

Understanding what Alzheimer’s disease is and the signs and alzheimer’s symptoms can help you understand if you are at risk of developing it or how to better care for a loved one that has been diagnosed.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the brain, leading to cognitive decline and memory loss. It is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all dementia cases.

The disease is characterized by the accumulation of protein plaques and tangles in the brain, which interfere with communication between brain cells, ultimately leading to their death. This causes a gradual decline in cognitive function, including memory loss, difficulty with language and communication, disorientation, and changes in mood and behavior.

While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still not fully understood, researchers believe it is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Age is the biggest risk factor for the disease, with the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increasing as people get older.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia disease, and treatment options are limited. However, there are medications and lifestyle changes that can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Research is ongoing to develop new treatments and therapies for the disease.

Types of Alzheimer’s disease and risk factors involved

couple staring out window

There are two types of Alzheimer’s disease: Sporadic, which is the most common form, and Familial, which is a rare form of the disease caused by specific genetic mutations.

In Sporadic Alzheimer’s disease, the cause is not known, and it is believed to be a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. The risk of developing sporadic increases with age and other factors, such as a history of head trauma, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

In familial Alzheimer’s disease, specific genetic mutations have been identified that can cause the disease to be passed down through families. If you have an affected parent there is a potential that you carry one of the genes associated with Alzheimer’s. There are three genes that have been identified as being responsible for the majority of familial Alzheimer’s cases: APP, PSEN1, and PSEN2. People who inherit one of these mutations have a much higher risk of developing dementia, often at a younger age than those who develop sporadic.

It’s important to note that even if someone has a genetic mutation associated with familial Alzheimer’s disease, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will develop the disease. The presence of the mutation only increases the risk of developing the disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

The signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can vary from person to person, and they may develop slowly over time. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

  1. Memory loss: This is often the first and most noticeable symptom. People with Alzheimer’s may forget important information, such as appointments, conversations, or where they placed objects.
  2. Difficulty with everyday tasks: People with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty completing tasks that were once easy for them, such as preparing meals, managing finances, or using a phone or computer.
  3. Problems with language: People with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty finding the right words, following a conversation, or understanding what others are saying.
  4. Disorientation and confusion: People with Alzheimer’s may become disoriented, especially in new or unfamiliar environments, and may have difficulty recognizing familiar people and places.
  5. Changes in mood and behavior: People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in mood, such as increased irritability, depression, or anxiety. They may also become more withdrawn, less interested in socializing, and less motivated to engage in activities they once enjoyed.
  6. Poor judgment and decision-making: People with Alzheimer’s may make poor decisions, such as giving away money or valuables, or falling for scams.

It’s important to note that not everyone with Alzheimer’s will experience all of these symptoms, and some people may have additional symptoms not listed here. If you or someone you know is experiencing memory loss or other symptoms of Alzheimer’s, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for an evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment can help improve quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

Young Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and Late onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Young Onset – those under 65

Young onset Alzheimer’s disease, also known as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, is a type of Alzheimer’s disease that affects people under the age of 65. While the majority of people with  dementia are over the age of 65, it is estimated that up to 5% of people with Alzheimer’s disease have young onset Alzheimer’s.

Young onset Alzheimer’s disease has the same underlying causes as dementia that occurs later in life. It is characterized by a progressive decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning skills. Other symptoms may include changes in personality, behavior, and mood.

The diagnosis of young onset Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging because the symptoms may be initially attributed to other causes, such as stress or depression. However, early detection is important because it can allow for earlier treatment and planning for the future.

While the cause of young onset Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood, some cases may have a genetic component. Genetic testing may be recommended for people with a family history of early-onset dementia.

Treatment for young onset Alzheimer’s disease is similar to treatment for Alzheimer’s disease that occurs later in life. There is no cure for the disease, but medications and lifestyle changes may help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Is genetic testing available for early onset alzheimer’s disease

Yes, genetic testing is available for early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Some cases of early onset Alzheimer disease may have a genetic component, which means that the disease may be caused by mutations in certain genes.

The most common young onset alzheimer’s disease risk genes are the APP, PSEN1, and PSEN2 genes. Genetic testing can determine whether a person has a mutation in one of these genes, which can help to confirm a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

However, it’s important to note that genetic testing for early onset Alzheimer’s disease is not recommended for everyone. It is typically only recommended for people who have a family history of the disease or who are experiencing symptoms of the disease at a relatively young age.

It’s also important to understand that having a genetic mutation associated with early onset Alzheimer’s disease does not necessarily mean that a person will develop the disease. Other factors, such as lifestyle and environmental factors, can also play a role in the development of the disease.

If you are concerned about your risk for early onset Alzheimer’s disease, you should talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you determine whether genetic testing is appropriate for you and provide guidance on how to manage your risk.

Late onset

Late onset Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for the majority of cases. It is a type of dementia that typically occurs in people over the age of 65, although it can also occur in people in their 80s and 90s.

As the disease progresses, the symptoms become more severe, and people with late onset Alzheimer’s disease may experience confusion, disorientation, and difficulty with activities of daily living. In the later stages of the disease, they may lose the ability to communicate, recognize family members, and perform basic tasks.

The exact cause of late onset Alzheimer’s disease is not known, but it is thought to be the result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. There is currently no cure for the disease, but medications and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Is genetic testing available for late onset Alzheimer’s?

Yes, genetic testing is available for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of Alzheimer’s and typically affects people over the age of 65. However, it’s important to note that genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease is not routinely recommended for everyone.

Genetic testing can identify whether a person has certain genes that are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. The most well-known of these genes is the APOE gene, which has three variations: APOE ε2, APOE ε3, and APOE ε4. People who inherit one or two copies of the APOE ε4 gene have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than people who do not have this gene.

Though the APOE gene clearly influences Alzheimer’s risk, it’s not a consistent sign that someone will have the disease Many people with the gene never develop the disease, and some people without the gene do develop it. Additionally, there are other genetic and non-genetic factors that can affect a person’s risk of developing dementia.

Before deciding to undergo genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional about the risks and benefits of testing, as well as any potential psychological or emotional impacts. Testing may be recommended in some cases, such as when a person has a family history of Alzheimer’s disease and is considering making important life decisions based on their risk of developing the disease.

How Can I Reduce My Risk of Alzheimer’s?

While there is no guaranteed way to completely prevent Alzheimer’s or dementia disease, there are lifestyle changes and habits that may help reduce your risk of developing the disease. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Exercise regularly: Exercise can help improve blood flow to the brain and promote the growth of new brain cells, which may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  2. Eat a healthy diet: A diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Avoid processed foods, sugary drinks, and foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol.
  3. Keep your mind active: Engage in activities that challenge your brain, such as reading, playing games, learning a new skill, or taking a class.
  4. Get enough sleep: Poor sleep quality has been linked to cognitive decline. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  5. Manage stress: Chronic stress can have negative effects on the brain and increase the risk of cognitive decline. Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
  6. Stay socially engaged: Social interaction can help stimulate the brain and may reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Stay connected with friends and family, join a club or social group, or volunteer in your community.
  7. Manage chronic conditions: Certain chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, may increase the risk of cognitive decline. Work with your healthcare professional to manage these conditions effectively.

By adopting these healthy lifestyle habits, you may be able to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and promote overall brain health.

Information for Alzheimer’s Care

elderly woman and loved one

If you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s, there are resources available to help make the process of caring for them easier. Here are some tips and resources:

  1. Try to learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s or dementia disease. Knowing what to expect may help you plan and anticipate any challenges that may arise.
  2. It’s important to create a safe and supportive environment for your loved one. This may include making changes to their living space to make it safer and easier to navigate.
  3. Reach out to healthcare professionals for guidance and support. They can provide advice and connect you with resources in your community.
  4. Joining a support group for caregivers can be helpful. It can provide emotional support and practical advice.
  5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. It’s important to make time for activities that make you happy and reduce your stress.
  6. As the disease progresses, you may need to make decisions about long-term care and end-of-life planning. It’s important to have these conversations early and make plans that align with your loved one’s wishes and values.

There are various organizations and resources available to support Alzheimer’s care, including the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating and progressive neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects memory and cognitive function. While there is currently no cure, early diagnosis, and treatment can help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with the disease and their families.

Memory care communities provide specialized care and support for those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias, offering a safe and secure environment where residents can receive the care they need as the disease progresses.

Continued research and awareness are crucial in the fight against Alzheimer’s, as we work towards a future where effective treatments and a cure are available to all. Additionally, a memory care community such as the Waterside Landing offers education, support, and advocacy for those affected by the disease. If you want to learn more or get in touch with them.


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