Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes dementia. It is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of cases in older people.

A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing a disease. Someone’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s is made up of a number of different elements. This includes age, genetics and lifestyle.

The biggest risk factor for developing late-onset Alzheimer’s is age – the older you are the more likely you are to develop it. While we can’t change our age or our genes, research is underway to learn more about ways we might help prevent Alzheimer’s or lower our risk.

Lifestyle

Some of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s are the same as for cardiovascular disease (like heart disease and stroke). By leading a healthy lifestyle and taking regular exercise you will be helping to keep your heart healthy. It’s possible you will be lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s too.

To keep healthy:

  • stay active and exercise regularly
  • don’t smoke
  • eat a healthy balanced diet
  • control high blood pressure
  • keep cholesterol at a healthy level
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • only drink alcohol within recommended limits.

Some studies suggest that enjoying an active social life, with lots of interests and hobbies might be beneficial.

Genetics

Alzheimer’s is a common disease, so it’s quite likely you will have a relative who has it. This doesn’t mean you will inherit it. Some research has suggested that if you have a parent or grandparent with Alzheimer’s and they developed the disease over the age of 65, then your risk of developing Alzheimer’s may be slightly higher than someone with no family history.

Research has identified several genes that are associated with a higher risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s in some people. Having these genes does not definitely mean someone will develop the disease, only that their risk is higher. However, their discovery is revealing more about the causes of Alzheimer’s.

In some instances early-onset Alzheimer’s can run in families. In these cases, many members of the same side of the family are affected, often in their 30s, 40s or 50s. These types of Alzheimer’s are very rare.

There is more about the genetics of Alzheimer’s in our Genes and dementia section.

Other risk factors

Some people develop mild memory problems that are worse than those to be expected at their age, but that aren’t yet interfering with normal daily activities. You might hear this called mild cognitive impairment or MCI. While people with MCI are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’sHowever, many people with MCI do not develop the disease and some even regain normal memory function.

People with Down’s syndrome are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and are more likely to develop the disease at an earlier age.

For more information on any of these conditions, talk to your doctor. To read more about risk factors, visit our section on risk factors and prevention.

This information was updated in May 2016 and is due for review in May 2018. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.

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