While doctors have not been able to identify who will develop Alzheimer’s disease, they have been able to note a few factors that could increase your risk of suffering from this form of dementia. Unfortunately, the number one factor cannot be avoided: getting older. Alzheimer’s disease targets those over 65, and your change doubles every five years after that.
“We know if you are 80 or older, your chances of getting Alzheimer’s are 50-50,” says Malaz Boustani, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a research scientist with the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University Center for Aging Research.
Genetics also play a factor in the development of the disease. If any first degree relatives- children, parents, or siblings- have Alzheimer’s, your risk is elevated. While researchers believe there are over a dozen genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common and most known is apolipoprotein E (ApoE). These genes are inherited by from our parents in three forms: ApoE2, ApoE3, or ApoE4. It appears that ApoE2 substantially protects against Alzheimer’s, whereas ApoE3 plays a neutral role, and ApoE4 dramatically increases the risk of Alzheimer’s.
There is a blood test to determine which form of ApoE you have, however it is only a risk factor and will not guarantee that you will develop the disease. Currently, there is no way of predicting who will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
While the above are risk factors that are out of your control, the following are lifestyle risk factors that you can control.
- Avoid head injury: “Head trauma that leads to loss of consciousness is strongly linked to future risk of Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Boustani says. This means to protect your head at all costs. Buckle up while driving, wear a helmet when riding bikes or playing contact sports, and minimize the risk of falls in your home by getting rid of tripping hazards and installing bathtub railings.
- Lower your risk for heart disease: “Whatever increases your risk of having heart disease will increase your risk of having Alzheimer’s disease,” Boustani says. Heart health is closely linked to brain health.
- Take steps to prevent type 2 diabetes: Research has been linking Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes so protect yourself through diet and regular exercise.
- Increase mental stimulation: “From my perspective, I see that if you don’t do brain exercises, if you don’t use your brain, you will lose it,” Boustani says. Stay mentally active by doing social activities and those involving significant information processing — doing puzzles like Sudoku, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, or going on outings to museums.