Is Alzheimer’s Hereditary?

Researchers know that genetics play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, but there are also other factors that may cause it to occur.

An Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis can be overwhelming. In the early stages, mild memory loss and mood swings appear. Later, as the condition progresses, it can severely limit physical and mental capabilities, and eventually lead to death. If you have a history of Alzheimer’s in your family, here’s what you need to know.

There are two types of Alzheimer’s

Late-onset Alzheimer’s occurs later in life and is thought to be caused by a combination of lifestyle, genetics and environment. Aging is also a factor, though doctors are still not sure why.

Early onset Alzheimer’s disease is more rare. It occurs in only 5% of the population who have Alzheimer’s in the United States, but it is especially devastating because it begins to develop much earlier, when people are in their 30s and 40s. In most instances, the disease can be linked to an inherited change in genes.

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Family history, genetics and more

According to Helena Chang Chui, MD, an internationally recognized Alzheimer’s disease expert with the USC Memory and Aging Center at Keck Medicine of USC, 50% of Alzheimer’s patients have a relative with the disease.

“You can be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s if you don’t have a family history, but half of our patients have one family member who had it.” There is an increased risk if you have a sibling, parent or grandparent with the disease.

Some ethnic groups can carry rare forms of Alzheimer’s. These rare forms of the condition, explains Chui, are called autosomal dominant.

“This means that the disease is caused by a genetic mutation on one of the 23 chromosomes,” says Chui. “Only 1% of Alzheimer’s patients are autosomal dominant, but 100% of them develop the disease.”

Researchers are still investigating why and when genetic mutations cause Alzheimer’s.

For now, Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented

For the time being there is no definitive research about how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Current recommendations focus on practicing a healthy lifestyle marked by maintaining appropriate weight, good nutrition and exercising. People with Alzheimer’s may also opt to participate in research trials to help medical experts learn more about the disease.

Although there are genetic tests that can identify whether you have an increased risk of developing the disease, these tests can only measure your risk factor; they can’t confirm whether you will actually develop Alzheimer’s.

by Heidi Tyline King

For more than 30 years, Keck Medicine of USC physicians and researchers have made major contributions to understanding Alzheimer’s disease, vascular brain injury and memory problems.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area and would like more information about Alzheimer’s from some of the top specialists in the world, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://neuro.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.