Thursday, September 10, 2009

Causes of Alzheimer's Disease

Hmmmm, the first couple of websites I read were not very helpful when I started researching the causes of Alzheimer's Disease. "Visiting our site is a great step." "Scientists are still working on finding the cause." They say third times a charm- or three strikes and you're out. Luckily it was the latter.

Scientists are still researching the causes of Alzheimer's but they have uncovered risk factors which may be helpful.

The first risk factor is age. The older you get, the more likely you are to develop Alzheimer's which is the most common form of dementia. Several sites said the same thing- one out of every eight people over 65 have Alzheimer's. Once you hit 85 the chances jump to nearly one out of every two. "The probability of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nearly doubles every five years after age 65." "Unless new treatments are developed to decrease the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease, the number of individuals with Alzheimer's disease in the United States is expected to be 14 million by the year 2050." Very scary statistics.

The next risk factor is family history. This is going to be difficult to write about as my adopted grandma had Alzheimer's as well as my biological grandmother (and her mom). This means that my adopted mom, my two adopted sisters, my biological mom, my two biological sisters, biological brother and myself are all at risk. We are 2-3 times more likely to develop the disease than those with no family history. The more close relatives that have Alzheimer's the more the risk increases. Also, more women than men develop the disease. People who have suffered traumatic head injuries and those with less than eight years of education are also more likely.

Genetics are also involved as risk factors:

1) Risk genes increase the likelihood of developing a disease, but do not guarantee it will happen. Scientists have so far identified one Alzheimer risk gene called apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE-e4).

APOE-e4 is one of three common forms of the APOE gene; the others are APOE-e2 and APOE-e3. APOE provides the blueprint for one of the proteins that carries cholesterol in the bloodstream.

Everyone inherits a copy of some form of APOE from each parent. Those who inherit one copy of APOE-e4 have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Those who inherit two copies have an even higher risk, but not a certainty. Scientists do not yet know how APOE-e4 raises risk. In addition to raising risk, APOE-e4 may tend to make symptoms appear at a younger age than usual.

Experts believe there may be as many as a dozen other Alzheimer risk genes in addition to APOE-e4.

2) Deterministic genes directly cause a disease, guaranteeing that anyone who inherits them will develop the disorder. Scientists have found rare genes that directly cause Alzheimer’s in only a few hundred extended families worldwide.

When Alzheimer’s disease is caused by deterministic genes, it is called “familial Alzheimer’s disease,” and many family members in multiple generations are affected. True familial Alzheimer’s accounts for less than 5 percent of cases.

Genetic tests are available for both APOE-e4 and the rare genes that directly cause Alzheimer’s. However, health professionals do not currently recommend routine genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease. Testing for APOE-e4 is sometimes included as a part of research studies.

Nothing can be done about the above risk factors but there are some things people can do to try to prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimer's. Avoiding traumatic head injuries early in life is one. Be sure to use seat belts in vehicles and proper head gear when playing sports. Also, take good care of your heart. "The risk of developing Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia appears to be increased by many conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol. Work with your doctor to monitor your heart health and treat any problems that arise."

Evidence is also mounting for the promotion of exercise and a healthy diet to reduce Alzheimer’s risk. Avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption, staying socially active, and engaging in intellectually stimulating activities have also been shown to have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, there is a strong link between heart health and brain health. Those who are free of heart disease or related conditions are at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another kind of dementia than those who have cardiovascular problems.

The more I research this horrible disease the more I learn and find to blog about. After this one I may have to take a break as it's been very exhausting and emotional. But if it makes others more aware and helps even one person then my messy house and lack of sleep is well worth it.

Resources used:

What Causes Alzheimer's Disease?

Risk Factors


Alzheimer's Disease Fact Sheet

Alzheimer's Disease

Related posts by RMS Snowdrop:

Caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's- a deeper look

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's stole my grandma

Alzheimer's stole my Nanny

If I develop Alzheimer's- A letter to my family

Next up: Alzheimer's and aluminum

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