Age: The risk for Alzheimer's disease (AD) increases with each decade of adult life. AD usually affects people older than 65 but rarely, it may affect those younger than 40. Less than five percent of people between 65-74 years old have AD. For people 85 and older, that number jumps to nearly 50%.
Heredity: The risk of developing AD appears to be slightly higher if a first-degree relative (a parent, sister, or brother) has the disease. Although the genetic link of AD among families remains largely unexplained, researchers have identified a few genetic mutations that greatly increase risk in some families. A clear inherited pattern of AD exists in less than 10% of cases. In addition, one form of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene increases the chances of developing late-onset AD. Nearly all individuals with Down's syndrome who live into their 40s develop the disease. Down syndrome (DS) is a condition in which extra genetic material causes delays in the way a child develops and often leads to mental retardation. It affects one in every 800 babies born. Three genetic mutations in DNA are known to cause early-onset Alzheimer's.
Lifestyle: The same factors that put an individual at risk of heart disease, including hypertension (high blood pressure) and hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), may also increase the likelihood that the person will develop AD. Poorly controlled diabetes is another risk factor. Exercise and diet are very important to prevent and control AD. Some clinical studies have suggested that remaining mentally active throughout life, especially in the later years, reduces the risk of AD. Mental activity can be doing crossword puzzles daily, reading the newspaper or books, and increasing social activities.
Head injury: The observation that some ex-boxers eventually develop dementia suggests that serious traumatic injury to the head (for example, a concussion with a prolonged loss of consciousness) may be a risk factor for AD. Findings are mixed and more research is needed.
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