Risk of Alzheimer's Disease - Who gets the disease?

Who can get AD?

There is no definitive answer as to who is at risk of Alzheimer ’s disease - why some people are affected and others are not. There are lots of theories claiming that certain people may be at more risk but the only known common risk factor is age.

That risk gets higher the older you get. It’s thought that around 50% of people over the age of 85 living in developed countries such as America have some form of dementia, with the majority of these being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Around one in 50 people between the ages of 65 and 70 are thought to have the disease.

Both men and women are equally at risk. However in developed countries, where women live longer, there is a slightly higher incidence of females with the illness. That’s just down to the fact that Alzheimer’s increases with age and nothing really to do with gender.

Who is at Risk of Alzheimer’s - Finding a Link

There is some evidence to suggest that there may be a genetic risk, although many scientists believe that the risk is very small.

A protein found in the genes called apolipopritein E (ApoE) could predispose people to Alzheimer’s. Whether they do go on to develop it could depend on a variety of unknown factors such as age, other unknown genes or lifestyle.

In some very rare cases, usually in very early onset Alzheimer’s before the age of 50, there is a hereditary factor. Certain families inherit a fault on chromosomes 21, 14 or 1. Researchers have found that in these cases around 50% of children of people with Alzheimer’s will have the genetic fault and go on to develop the disease.

Is there a geographical link to "people at risk of Alzheimer’s?" If you live in developing countries such as Africa and India your risk is also lower. However this is probably down to socio-economic factors. Lack of awareness about Alzheimer’s may lead to many older people being thought of as “senile” rather than being officially diagnosed with the disease. And the high prevalence of disease generally in poorer nations, combined with severe malnutrition, means that many people don’t live long enough for Alzheimer’s to become an issue.

There have been some studies suggesting that people who have gone on to further and higher education are at a lower risk than those with limited education. This could be down to the fact that the brain is kept more active and can ward off the disease but again nobody really knows.

Scientists already know that people who suffer from arthritis are less likely to be at risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Why this should be the case is still under investigation but it’s thought that the anti-inflammatory drugs given to help arthritis may actually act as a form of prevention.

The news is not so good if you suffer from high blood pressure and cholesterol. Both these factors could increase your risk of getting the disease – and they are known to double the risk of dementia as you get older. After all, certain vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, strokes or heart problems, can hinder the blood supply to the brain causing brain damage and what is known as vascular dementia. Researchers believe that people with vascular dementia are at slightly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

So really, any of us could be at risk, regardless of race, age, or culture. The current lack of understanding of the disease makes it impossible to predict.


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