While memory often changes as people age, memory loss that impacts an individual’s daily life and ability to make complex decisions is not a typical part of aging. Those with Alzheimer’s disease experience a particularly harmful loss of memory and other cognitive functions, which may cause them to be unable to make complex decisions, think logically or even speak.
Doctors are unsure of what exactly causes Alzheimer’s disease, but it is thought to be caused by an abnormal buildup of proteins in and around brain cells. As these proteins begin to manifest in the brain, neurotransmitters are less efficient at sending signals between brain cells, therefore impeding necessary cognitive functions. While experts are still unsure of what causes the initial buildup of proteins in the brain, there are several risk factors associated with the development of the condition. Let’s dive into a few of the signs that you may be at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
You’re Over the Age of 65
Increasing age is one of the most commonly known risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s, but this disease is not a normal part of aging. The majority of individuals diagnosed with the condition are over the age of 65, and the risk of developing it doubles every five years after that. By age 85, nearly one-third of all people may have it.
So, why does the rate of Alzheimer’s increase with age? According to research done at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, our brains become less efficient at clearing a protein called amyloid-beta as we age. Plaques of amyloid-beta are commonly found in individuals with Alzheimer’s, so the brain’s inability to address this buildup may be the key reason why older age is usually associated with the condition.
Other age-related reasons for Alzheimer’s include changes like the shrinking of certain parts of the brain, vascular damage, the production of unstable molecules called free radicals, and the breakdown of energy production within cells.
It Runs in Your Family
Other key risk factors for Alzheimer’s include family history and genetics. While you are not guaranteed to develop the disease just because a family member has had it, your risk does increase if others in your family have struggled with it. Those who have a close relative who has it—like a sibling or parent—are even more likely to develop it, especially if more than one person in their family has been affected by it. Beyond genetic reasons for family history contributing to Alzheimer’s, environmental factors may also play a role.
There are two categories of genes associated with the development of any disease: risk genes and deterministic genes. Alzheimer’s genes have been found in both of these categories. If you’re interested in learning more about your genetics and your likelihood of developing a disease, there are genetic tests available that search for these sets of genes.
You Have Cardiovascular Disease
Research has shown that lifestyle factors and conditions associated with cardiovascular disease can also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Some of these factors include the following:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
You can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s by quitting smoking, eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, drinking less alcohol, and having regular check-ins with your doctor. All areas of your health start to bleed together, so make sure to take the necessary precautions now to ensure greater overall health as you age.
Now that you know a few of the risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s, take some time to familiarize yourself with the early warning signs that could point towards the disease. If you are experiencing any concerning memory problems, reach out to your doctor. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s could make a huge impact on your treatment, allowing you and your doctor to tailor a plan to your specific needs.