A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of developing a disease. Our risk of developing Alzheimer’s is made up of a complex mixture of factors including our age, the genes we inherit from our parents, our lifestyles, and our environment.

Some of these things we cannot control, like our age and our genes. The biggest risk factor for developing late onset Alzheimer’s is age. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop it.

Risk factors we can change

Many people live a healthy and active life but still develop dementia, as there are no sure-fire ways of preventing it. However, research does suggest more than one in three cases of dementia could be avoided by helping people address lifestyle factors.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in your forties and fifties seems to be particularly important for helping to lower your risk of dementia. By keeping your heart and brain healthy, you will be lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s, or at the very least delaying its onset.

Some studies also show that enjoying an active social life, with lots of interests and hobbies, is beneficial. Research has linked staying mentally and socially active 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 singing group can help you keep your brain active.

For good brain health and heart health, and to help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Keep physically active.
  • Stay socially and mentally active.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet.
  • Keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Have your hearing checked regularly.
  • If you have diabetes, ensure your condition is well managed.
  • Only drink alcohol in line with government recommendations (14 units of alcohol per week).

Your genes

There are around 600,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in the UK, so many of us are likely to have at least one relative with the disease. This doesn’t mean that we will inherit it.

If someone has a parent or grandparent with Alzheimer’s who developed the disease after the age of 65, then their own risk of developing Alzheimer’s may be slightly higher than someone with no family history. This is because they are more likely to have risk genes.

Risk genes have been identified by researchers and are associated with a higher risk of late onset Alzheimer’s in some people. Having these risk genes does not mean someone will definitely develop the disease. Only that their chances are higher than people who do not have these risk genes present in their family. There is currently no genetic testing available on the NHS to find out if we carry risk genes or not.

In some rare cases, young onset Alzheimer’s, where people develop symptoms before the age of 65, can run in families and may be caused by faulty genes. People with these faulty genes are extremely likely to develop the disease during their lifetime. In these cases, there is a clear pattern of many members of the same side of the family being affected, often in their 30s, 40s or 50s. Around one in 100 cases of dementia are caused by these inherited faulty genes.

Research also shows that people with Down syndrome are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and are more likely to develop the disease at an earlier age. This is because the genetic changes in people with Down syndrome cause the faulty proteins amyloid and tau to build-up in the brain.

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. This is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). While people with MCI are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, many people do not go on to develop the disease and some even regain normal memory function.

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 May 2024 and is due to be reviewed in May 2026. It was written by Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Information Services team with input from lay and expert reviewers. Please get in touch if you’d like a version with references or in a different format.

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