Signs and Causes of Alzheimer's Disease
Do you forget things? We don’t mean the name of someone you just met or not remembering where you left your keys. Do you forget the names of people who have been part of your daily life? Do you have trouble recalling important events? Perhaps the way home from the store or work doesn’t seem familiar. Or you’re getting notices for late payments on bills that otherwise have been paid on time for years. You could be experiencing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. About 4.5 million Americans suffer from this condition, which usually begins after age 60.
Could it be genetic?
People with Down syndrome tend to experience premature aging. They show physical changes related to aging about 20 to 30 years ahead of people of the same age in the general population. As a result, Alzheimer’s disease is far more common in people with Down syndrome than in the regular population. Adults with Down syndrome often are in their mid to late 40s or early 50s when Alzheimer’s symptoms first appear.
An international study of nearly 12,000 Swedish twin pairs — a fourth of them identical twins — now finds that some 80% of Alzheimer’s risk is genetic. University of Southern California psychologist Margaret Gatz, PhD, and colleagues reported the findings in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
“It appears that genetic influences outweigh environmental influences in relative importance for Alzheimer’s risk,” says Gatz.
What this means is that close relatives of people with Alzheimer’s disease are at much higher risk of getting the disease than people without such a relative. It does not, however, guarantee that having a relative with Alzheimer’s disease means that you are guaranteed to get Alzheimer’s disease.
The majority of Alzheimer’s disease cases are late-onset, usually developing after age 65. Late-onset AD has no known cause and shows no obvious inheritance pattern. However, in some families, clusters of cases are seen. Although a specific gene has not been identified as the cause of late-onset AD, genetic factors do appear to play a role in the development of this form of AD. Only one risk factor gene has been identified so far.
Researchers have identified an increased risk of developing late-onset AD related to the apolipoprotein E gene found on chromosome 19. This gene codes for a protein that helps carry cholesterol in the bloodstream. The APOE gene comes in several different forms, oralleles, but three occur most frequently: APOE e2, APOE e3, and APOE e4.
Does more weight mean more risk?
Believe it or not, obesity may mean you are at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, too. The high insulin levels seen in obese people today means that Alzheimer’s could be at epidemic proportions in the years to come. People with diabetes are at a particularly high risk for developing AD.
What can I do?
The annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Walks take place throughout the year, primarily in the fall, in communities nationwide. In Wilmington, NC, the 2015 Walk to End Alzheimer’s event is happening at Mayfaire Town Center on November 7. Click here to get more details about walking and/or volunteering.
Sources: WebMD and ALZ.org