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. It’s a complicated picture.

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 brain healthy. It is likely you will be lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s too.

To keep healthy:

  • be active and exercise regularly
  • do not 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 research suggests that enjoying an active social life, with lots of interests and hobbies, might be beneficial. Staying mentally and socially active has been linked to a lower risk of dementia. It’s not clear which activities are most beneficial, but doing things you enjoy like reading, doing puzzles, or joining a signing group, or social club can help you to feel happier, stay mentally active and feel more positive in life.

Genetics

Because Alzheimer’s is common, many people have a relative who has the disease, but this does not mean they will inherit it themselves. Research has found that if someone has a parent or grandparent with Alzheimer’s who developed the disease over the age of 65, then their own risk of developing Alzheimer’s is 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. The discovery of these genes is revealing more about the causes of Alzheimer’s. Having these genes does not definitely mean someone will develop the disease, only that their chances are higher than people who do not have them.

Sometimes, early-onset Alzheimer’s, where people develop the disease before the age of 65, can run in families and may be caused by faulty genes. In these cases, many members of the same side of the family are affected, often in their 30s, 40s or 50s. These types of directly inherited Alzheimer’s are very rare.

Other risk factors

Some people develop mild memory problems that are worse than expected for their age, but do not get in the way of normal daily life. You might hear this called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). While people with MCI are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, many people with MCI do not develop the disease and some even regain normal memory function.

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

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Find out more about the symptoms and causes of Alzheimer's disease, and the treatments currently available.

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This information was updated in June 2020 and is due for review in June 2022. It does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.

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