Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, incurable and ultimately fatal form of dementia which is caused by the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain and blood vessels. One of the most important Alzheimer's disease risk factors is age; approximately five percent of all Americans between the age of 65 and 74 have Alzheimer's disease, and half of all people over the age of 85 are thought to have Alzheimer's. Gender also plays a role, as women account for twice as many cases of Alzheimer's Disease as men.
As with many diseases, genetics can either increase or decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Most cases of Alzheimer's disease show no obvious pattern of inheritance, but there are some cases where clusters of the disease have been identified in families. One of the better characterized Alzheimer's Disease risk factors is the ApoE gene, which is also involved in how the body metabolizes fats.
The ApoE gene has three different forms, classified as ApoE2, 3 and 4. ApoE4, which is present in approximately one quarter of all Americans, increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease, whereas the less common ApoE2 gene is associated with a decreased risk of developing this condition. Many other genes, such as UBQLN, SORL1, and TOMM40 have also been identified as important for determining a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease. These genes are involved with regulating the way the body makes and breaks down proteins.
There is also a connection between cardiovascular health and Alzheimer's Disease. Many of the same factors which can result in damage to the blood vessels and heart, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol can also increase a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease. This "heart-head" connection continues to be a promising area for Alzheimer's Research as scientists work to understand the role of blood flow and blood vessel health in dementia.
There are a number of ways in which people can decrease their risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease. The role of diet as one of the Alzheimer's Disease risk factors has come into focus, as researchers have found that people who follow the Mediterranean Diet are less likely to suffer from a decline in their cognitive abilities. Vitamin D3 and an antioxidant found in green tea, known as epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG may also help protect the brain against degeneration.
Physical activity may also play a role; research has found that people who get 15 minutes of exercise or more at least three times a week may be 30 to 40 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease than their less active counterparts.
Staying mentally active throughout life can also help protect people against Alzheimer's Disease. Although most of the brain's development occurs early in life, people who read challenging books, play a musical instrument, embrace new activities and engage in mentally challenging tasks such as playing chess are less likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease. The benefits of increased mental activity extend to people who increased their activity levels between the ages of 40 and 60, demonstrating that the protective effects of increased mental stimulation remain for older adults.