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What is Alzheimer's?
Inside the Brain
Cause and Risk Factors
Stages
APIs and Alzheimer's
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Causes and Risk Factors

Introduction
Age
Family history and genetics
Other risk factors

Introduction

While scientists know Alzheimer's disease involves the progressive failure of brain cells, why this happens is still not known. However, they have identified certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's.

Age

The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer's is increasing age. Of Americans aged 65 and over, 1 in 8 has Alzheimer’s, and nearly half of people aged 85 and older have the disease.

Family history and genetics

Another risk factor is family history. Research has shown that those who have a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer's are more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one family member has the illness. When diseases tend to run in families, either heredity (genetics) or environmental factors, or both, may play a role.

Scientists have identified one gene that increases the risk for Alzheimer's but does not guarantee an individual will develop the disease. Research has also revealed certain rare genes that virtually guarantee an individual will develop Alzheimer's. These genes have been found in only a few hundred extended families worldwide and account for less than five percent of all cases of Alzheimer's.

Other risk factors

Most experts believe that the majority of Alzheimer's disease occurs as a result of complex interactions among genes and other risk factors. Age, family history and heredity are all risk factors we can’t change. Now, research is beginning to reveal clues about other risk factors we may be able to influence through general lifestyle and wellness choices and effective management of other health conditions.

Head trauma: There may be a strong link between serious head injury and future risk of Alzheimer’s, especially when trauma occurs repeatedly or involves loss of consciousness. Protect your brain by buckling your seat belt, wearing your helmet when participating in sports, and "fall-proofing" your home.

Heart-head connection: Growing evidence links brain health to heart health. Your brain is nourished by one of your body’s richest networks of blood vessels. Every heartbeat pumps about 20 to 25 percent of your blood to your head, where brain cells use at least 20 percent of the food and oxygen your blood carries.

The risk of developing Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia appears to be increased by many conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol. Work with your doctor to monitor your heart health and treat any problems that arise.

General healthy aging: Other lines of evidence suggest that strategies for overall healthy aging may help keep your brain as well as your body fit. These strategies may even offer some protection against developing Alzheimer’s or related disorders. Try to keep your weight within recommended guidelines, avoid tobacco and excess alcohol, stay socially connected, and exercise both your body and mind.


Next: Stages

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