Genes play a role in Alzheimer’s disease for some
Like many people, you may worry about developing Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, a decline in mental ability over time that can interfere with quality of life. A combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors play a role in a person’s risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease. There is a strong genetic link for Alzheimer’s disease, for example, in people who have features of the conditions earlier in life (before age 65), as well as later in life.
But it’s not as simple as inheriting a gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s what we know:
- The majority of Alzheimer’s disease cases are of the later onset form, and its causes are not yet fully understood. Though genetic testing is not available to identify a specific genetic mutation that causes late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a specific version of the APOEgene appears to increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.
- There are several versions of the gene apolipoprotein E(APOE) that can increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The most common version, called APOE e4, is seen in about 40 percent of all people with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. About one in every four people has that genetic mutation, but not everyone who has this genetic mutation will develop the condition, and not all who develop the disease has this one specific version of the APOE gene.
- Only about two percent of all people who develop Alzheimer’s disease have a genetic mutation that actually caused the condition. Because of that, genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease may be helpful for some people and not others.
If you are concerned about a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, seeing a genetic counselor would be highly beneficial, especially before moving forward with testing. A genetic counselor can help assess your risks and determine whether genetic testing may be helpful and if so, can help you decide if it’s something you would like to have.
Currently, Alzheimer’s disease treatments are of limited value and no new therapies have been approved in more than a decade.
There are other things to consider before testing for Alzheimer’s disease. While the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) protects you and your genetic information regarding employment and medical insurance eligibility, results from a genetic test for Alzheimer’s disease could affect your insurance coverage.
There are a number of things you can do to decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, whether or not it runs in your family:
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check – talk to your doctor
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stop smoking
- Be active – physically and mentally
- Drink only in moderation
- If you are overweight, lose weight
- If you have diabetes, be sure you manage it
- Get help if you have depression
- Practice precaution against head injuries
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