What increases my risk for Alzheimer's disease?

Age is the biggest risk factor when it comes to developing Alzheimer's disease. More than 30 percent of the population above age 85 has Alzheimer's, although the condition is rare in anyone under the age of 60. Heredity can also increase your risk of developing the disease. It isn't completely understood yet, but if anyone in your immediate family develops Alzheimer's you are at a higher - risk of developing it as well. Because women typically live longer and reach the higher risk age, they are at a higher risk than men. Aside from that, research has suggested that high blood pressure and high cholesterol may also be factors in developing Alzheimer's.

Sarine Salama
Sarine Salama on behalf of MDLIVE
Age is the greatest known risk factor contributing to Alzheimer's Disease. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer's after the age of 65 doubles every 5 years. Another dominant risk factor is family history of the disease. The risk of you getting Alzheimer's increases if more than one family member has the disease. Genetics are also involved in getting Alzheimer's disease. APOE-e4 is considered to be the risk gene with the strongest influence related to getting Alzheimer's.
Gary Wenk

There are many risk factors. At a recent meeting of scientists who study this disease some obvious and surprising findings were presented.  The greatest risk factors are age and genes.  Although accurate, these answers are frustrating because aging is something we all want to do and we have no control over which genes we inherited. Tall people get Alzheimer less often than short people.  People with large circumference heads get it less often than people with smaller heads.  Clearly, there's very little that can be done about those peculiar risk factors.  Learning two languages seems to reduce the risk of Alzheimer; surprisingly, learning three languages increased the risk.  These correlations are not that helpful.  Most people want some simple guidelines.  My favorite findings that correlated best with reduced risk of Alzheimer were eating fewer calories every day, exercising a little every day and avoiding anything from a cow. 

The single most important acquired (i.e., non-genetic) risk for Alzheimer's disease is traumatic brain injury. A single severe injury with loss of consciousness roughly triples the risk for Alzheimer's. However, in about half of patients with Alzheimer's, there is a genetic risk called APOE4, and if someone with an APOE4 gene has a traumatic brain injury, the risk for Alzheimer's is increased by ten times (10-fold). The single most consistent change in lifestyle that can delay, prevent, or slow progression of Alzheimer's is physical exercise. At least 30 minutes of vigorous walking or weight training for at least 3 sessions per week is the minimum.


Zaldy S. Tan, MD
Geriatric Medicine

The greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is getting older. Other risk factors include having certain types of genes and having a first-degree relative with dementia. Since we cannot control aging or genetics, researchers are looking for other clues as to what increases the risk of developing the disease. They have found a number of risk factors, including:

  • Head trauma
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Low education
  • Lack of physical exercise and mental activity

Researchers have not proven conclusively that these factors are associated with a higher risk of developing dementia. However, taking steps to manage your risk factors is beneficial to your overall health. Perhaps research will one day prove that they can decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s as well.

Age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Family history of Alzheimer’s also increases one's risk of having the disease, especially the early-onset form. Some research suggests diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity, and alcohol abuse and tobacco use may increase one's risk of getting the disease. Other studies have shown that increased social, mental and physical activity may protect one from getting Alzheimer’s disease.

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