Is There a Genetic Link to Alzheimer’s Disease?

February 19, 2020

Wondering if you are at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s because a family member has the disease? Read on to learn what researchers know about Alzheimer’s.

If you are the caregiver for a senior loved one who has Alzheimer’s, you’ve likely wondered whether their diagnosis increases your own risk for developing the disease.

It’s an understandable concern given how tough it is to watch someone you love struggle with difficult symptoms, such as agitation, memory problems, and a loss of verbal skills.

Is Alzheimer’s disease tied to genetics? The question isn’t an easy one to answer with any degree of certainty. While scientists have identified some genetic involvement, it is not fully understood how heredity links us to the disease.

What Are the Genetic Ties to Alzheimer’s Disease?

Our genes carry the code that determines which of our parents’ traits we will inherit. Genes are found in each of the billions of cells that make up our bodies. We receive one gene copy from each parent. Those differences are what contribute to our uniqueness.

Let’s say, for example, that your mother is very tall and your father has brown eyes. You could inherit the trait for her height, as well as the trait for his eye color. Your sibling might inherit the opposite combination—your father’s height and your mother’s eyes.

Our genetic code can also increase our individual risk for developing certain diseases and chronic health conditions. Sickle cell anemia, Huntington’s disease, and cystic fibrosis are all linked to an inherited single gene disorder.

Unfortunately, the genetic risks associated with Alzheimer’s aren’t as straightforward. Largely because so much of the science behind this disease continues to baffle researchers.

What we do know is that there are two types of Alzheimer’s disease, early-onset Alzheimer’s and late-onset Alzheimer’s. Early-onset, also known as familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD), has a genetic link.

Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

FAD is caused by a hereditary genetic mutation to one of three genes: PSEN1, PSEN2, or APP. If your birth mother or father carries a genetic mutation on one of these three genes, you and your siblings will have a 50% chance of inheriting that mutation.

A child who inherits one of these genetic mutations will, with almost 100% certainty, develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. About 50% of other family members who also carry this genetic legacy will develop the disease before the age of 60.

This contrasts with the much more common form of the disease, late-onset Alzheimer’s. Late-onset occurs in adults over the age of 60. Unlike early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, there is no known genetic mutation that is linked to late-onset Alzheimer’s with such certainty.

Guarding Against Alzheimer’s Disease

While the cause of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease continues to elude researchers, it is commonly believed that lifestyle may play at least a minor role. Exercising and eating a healthy diet might help prevent or delay the onset or progression of Alzheimer’s.

Giving your brain a healthy workout on a regular basis may also lower your risk. A few ways to do that include reading, pursuing new hobbies, learning a foreign language, or taking a class.

Other research seems to indicate blood sugar may impact your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Some researchers are going as far as hypothesizing that Alzheimer’s is another form of diabetes.

Support for Seniors with Alzheimer’s Disease

If you are a caregiver struggling to manage a family member’s disease at home, we can help. Our award-winning memory care services may be the solution you are searching for on a loved one’s behalf. Call the Legacy Senior Living community nearest you to learn more or to schedule a private tour.