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What Are Common Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease?

It is thought that Alzheimer’s disease is not caused by merely one thing, but a combination of factors (genetic, environmental, lifestyle).1,2 There are also certain risk factors that may increase the possibility of developing the disease. Risk factors are characteristics or events that increase the likelihood of developing a condition or becoming injured. Having one or more risk factors for something does not necessarily mean you will get the disease, just as having none of the risk factors does not mean you won’t get the disease. Some risk factors, like age, aren’t able to be changed or modified, but things like lifestyle behaviors are able to be changed. Risk factors should be viewed as part of the bigger picture: things to think about and address to help reduce your risk of disease and promote overall wellness.

Age

The biggest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is older age.1 While older age is a risk factor, Alzheimer’s is not a typical component of getting older. The majority of people diagnosed with the disease are 65 years old and older; after the age of 65, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every 5 years.1 After the age of 85, the risk increases even more: one-third of individuals in this age bracket are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.1

Genetics

Some types of genes have been found to be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.2,3 Two categories of these genes include risk genes and deterministic genes. Risk genes increase the chance of developing a disease, but it is not an absolute that the disease will occur.3 An example of this with Alzheimer’s disease is the APOE-e4 gene.2,3 While everyone inherits a form of APOE, those with two copies of the APOE-e4 gene have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.3 Deterministic genes directly cause a disease; if you have one of these genes, you will develop the disease.3 While some of these genes have been found for Alzheimer’s disease, they are very, very rare. Talk with a doctor or a genetic counselor if you’re concerned about genetic factors and Alzheimer’s. The choice to do genetic testing can be complicated, and there are risks that come along with the benefits.

Family history

If a person has a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s disease, they have a higher chance of developing it themselves.1 This is increased further if more than one first degree relative has the disease.

Head injury

Several retrospective studies have seen a higher risk of dementia in those who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) than those who have not had a head injury.2 This relationship is not consistent, and more research needs to be done, but there is an association present, and the association is stronger in men who have had a TBI than in women who have had a TBI.2

Heart health

The heart is the organ that pumps blood throughout the body, including the brain. There is a link to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular conditions that damage the heart, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol, and stroke.1 If you have any conditions that may affect the heart, talk with your doctor about ways to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, which can then also reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

If you’re concerned about your risk factors, talk openly and honestly with your doctor(s) about your lifestyle behaviors and any medical conditions that may impact your health. While you may not be able to mitigate all of your risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, there are changes that can be made accordingly to promote overall health and wellness, thereby possibly lowering the risk of developing the disease.

Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: June 2019
  1. Alzheimer’s Association. Causes and Risk Factors. 2019. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/causes-and-risk-factors Accessed March 14, 2019.
  2. Reitz C & Mayeux R. Alzheimer disease: Epidemiology, diagnostic criteria, risk factors and biomarkers. Biochem Pharmacol. 2015; 88(4): 640-651. Doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2013.12.024 Accessed March 14, 2019.
  3. Alzheimer’s Association. Genetics. 2019. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/causes-and-risk-factors/genetics Accessed March 14, 2019.