Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease: Is it Genetic?

Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain, primarily damaging cells that impact memory and thinking. For decades, medical scientists have been studying Alzheimer’s disease. While there is still no cure, much research has been conducted into the causes of the disease. Now, we are more aware of how genetics impact a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other potential causes of the condition.

Despite many research studies being conducted into Alzheimer’s disease, it still is not fully understood, and there’s a long way to go in terms of researching the condition further. To date, the research has found that genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors can all impact the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In many cases, it won’t be a single factor that causes the disease, but rather a combination of factors working together to create the right conditions for it to take hold. The following are some of these factors.

1. Genetics

Scientists are yet to fully understand exactly how genetic mutations may lead to the development of the disease. However, they do know that genetics are a factor in a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that people who have parents or siblings living with Alzheimer’s are at slightly higher risk of developing the condition.

2. Age

As we age, we are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Most people with Alzheimer’s disease are over the age of 65. After we reach 65, our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years. Once we reach the age of 85, that risk increases to nearly one-third.

3. Gender

Women are more at risk of being affected by Alzheimer’s disease. However, this is likely because women have a longer life expectancy than men, and as such, are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease in their later years.

One study has shown that hormones may also have an impact on Alzheimer’s disease. After menopause, the level of estrogen drops in a woman’s body. Scientists theorise that estrogen is effective in protecting the brain of young women, and as these levels drop due to natural ageing, the brain may become more susceptible to the disease.

4. Heart Health

Research has shown that lifestyle is linked to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Heart health is particularly important and can impact how likely we are to develop the disease later in life. Older adults with coronary artery disease or peripheral arterial disease have been proven to be at higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In our younger years, eating well, exercising regularly, eliminating cigarettes, limiting alcohol, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol can keep both our heart and our brain healthy.

5. Sleep Disorders

Long-standing quality of sleep can be a factor in a person’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. According to a study published in JAMA Neurology, adults who experienced poor or limited sleep had an increased build-up of beta-amyloid plaques in their brain, which can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. However, more research has to be done into this theory, as scientists are not sure whether poor sleep is a cause of Alzheimer’s or, alternatively, if sleep is affected in the early stages of the disease.

6. Cognitive Impairment

Research has found that people who are already living with mild cognitive impairment may be at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Scientists are still trying to discover why this may be the case. Research in 2006 found that the existence of certain proteins in the brain, such as beta-amyloid, increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. People living with mild cognitive impairment may have these proteins present in their brain. This may not majorly impact a person’s day-to-day life, but it can impact memory, thinking skills, visual perception, and decision-making skills.

7. Previous Head Trauma

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there is a link between brain injury and an increased risk of dementia. The brain creates large amounts of beta-amyloid after an injury, which as mentioned above, can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

8. Lack of Lifetime Learning

Brain use over the course of a person’s lifetime may also impact the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. People who regularly stimulate their brains with challenging mental activities have been proven to have fewer beta-amyloid deposits in their brain. It is important that these brain activities are carried out throughout a person’s entire lifetime, however, early and middle life brain training is associated with the biggest reduction in risk.

We hope that this article has provided some useful insight into some of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, Brain Sparks’ Dementia Live® course may be of benefit to you. The course immerses carers in the experience of living with Dementia to give them powerful insights for effectively communicating with those in their care.

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