Is Alzheimer’s Disease Hereditary?

Last Updated : 09/16/20183 min read

If someone in your family has Alzheimer’s disease, it’s normal to wonder if your chances of developing the disease are increased. According to the National Institute of Health, many human diseases have a genetic, or hereditary component. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, scientists have discovered hereditary genes linked to Alzheimer’s Disease that can either increase your chances of developing it, or guarantee that you will get it if a particular gene is present.

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This article will help you understand the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and heredity.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) defines dementia as a condition that interferes with a person’s memory, thinking, and reasoning skills. Not everyone who has dementia has Alzheimer’s disease; other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or frontotemporal disorders may also cause dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging; it can also affect people in their 40s and 50s, although this early-onset type of Alzheimer’s accounts for only about 5% of all Alzheimer’s patients, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition that worsens over time. The NIA describes symptoms in the early stages as memory loss, trouble choosing the right words, impaired judgment, and a decline in thinking. In its later stages, Alzheimer’s disease causes worsening memory impairment, confusion, and difficulty recognizing family and friends. Those with severe late-stage Alzheimer’s may be unable to communicate at all, have trouble swallowing, and spend more time sleeping. These patients eventually need total care.

Is Alzheimer’s disease hereditary?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is a multifactorial condition, which means that there are many risk factors and causes that contribute to your likelihood of developing the disease. Age, family history, history of severe head injury, and even history of certain types of heart conditions may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

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That said, scientists have definitively identified a hereditary component in early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association describes two types of genes related to the disease to better explain the hereditary connection: risk genes and deterministic genes.

Risk genes are those that suggest an increased chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. People who have certain variations of the APOE gene have a higher risk of developing the disease, but it is not certain that they will.

Those with deterministic genes, however, are guaranteed to develop Alzheimer’s disease at some point in their lives, generally at a younger age, typically in their 40s and 50s. This type of hereditary Alzheimer’s disease is called “familial Alzheimer’s” and families affected with it generally have multiple family members across several generations diagnosed with the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association says that just 1% of all Alzheimer’s cases are familial forms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Genetic testing for certain Alzheimer’s-related genes is available, but the Alzheimer’s Association suggests that most health care providers do not routinely test for these genes, because there is no known treatment to cure the disease. The Alzheimer’s foundation recommends measures to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s such as eating a healthy diet, being socially active, stopping smoking and avoiding excess alcohol and exercising regularly.

Need more information about Medicare and genetic testing for hereditary forms of Alzheimer’s disease?

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