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Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease: risk factors and prevention

Since the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown, it’s difficult to predict who will develop it in the course of their lifetime. Some risk factors, however, are known, the most important of which is age.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, your risk increases as you age:

  • 1 in 20 Canadians over age 65 are affected by it
  • 1 in 4 over age 85

People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease may worry that they have passed the disease to their children, but this usually will not be the case.

There are two types of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Familial type: This is passed from one generation to another through a dominant gene. If one of your parents has this type of the disease, you always have a 50% chance of inheriting the gene and then developing the disease. The familial type of Alzheimer’s disease is very rare and is seen in less than 5% of cases.
  • Sporadic type: About 90% of cases are the sporadic type of Alzheimer’s disease. You can develop this kind of Alzheimer’s disease even if nobody in your family has had the disease, although having a family history still affects your chances of getting the disease, compared with someone with no Alzheimer’s disease in their family — the more family members who are affected, and the closer they are to you, the higher the risk for the disease.

An important thing to note is that although dementia is different from “normal forgetfulness.” There is a step before the disease occurs, a sort of in-between stage, called mild cognitive impairment. Some experts now feel that in some cases, mild cognitive impairment in an older person is a “pre-state” — that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease

Since most cases of Alzheimer’s disease are of the sporadic type and difficult to predict, it isn’t an easy disease to prevent. Some research suggests that keeping the mind active can protect against cognitive decline with age, pointing to the “use it or lose it” theory when it comes to brain cells.

Keep your brain active. Scientists are exploring the possibility that keeping the brain active can protect it from Alzheimer’s disease or slow down some of the symptoms when the disease begins. If this is so, the theory is that it will take longer for a condition such as Alzheimer’s disease to destroy brain cells and produce symptoms.

Keep an active lifestyle. There is a growing amount of evidence that concludes that keeping an active lifestyle can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, or at least reduce the risk of developing it, but there is agreement that many healthy activities, despite a diagnosis of the disease, should be a part of everyone’s overall lifestyle and aging strategy.

More information, support and resources

Want more information and support? Search “Alzheimer’” in Find Support for organizations in your area.

If you’re a caregiver, explore Advice for caregivers for information created with you in mind.

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