n three genes that virtually guarantee a person who inherits them will develop Alzheimer's. But these mutations account for less than 5 percent of Alzheimer's disease. Most genetic mechanisms of Alzheimer's among families remain largely unexplained. The strongest risk gene researchers have found so far is apolipoprotein e4 (APOE e4). Other risk genes have been identified but not conclusively confirmed.
Women may be more likely than are men to develop Alzheimer's disease, in part because they live longer.
Mild cognitive impairment
People with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have memory problems or other symptoms of cognitive decline that are worse than might be expected for their age, but not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia. Those with MCI have an increased risk — but not a certainty — of later developing dementia. Taking action to develop a healthy lifestyle and strategies to compensate for memory loss at this stage may help delay or prevent the progression to dementia.
Past head trauma
People who've had a severe head trauma or repeated head trauma appear to have a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Lifestyle and heart health
There's no lifestyle factor that's been conclusively shown to reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease.
However, some evidence suggests that the same factors that put you at risk of heart disease may also increase the chance that you'll develop Alzheimer's. Examples include:
Lack of exercise
High blood pressure
High blood cholesterol
Poorly controlled diabetes
A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables
Lack of social engagement
These risk factors are also linked to vascular dementia, a type of dementia caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain. Working with your health care team on a plan to control these factors will help protect your heart — and may also help reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.
Lifelong learning and social engagement
Studies have found an association between lifelong involvement in mentally and socially stimulating activities and reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Factors that may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's include:
Higher levels of formal education
A stimulating job
Mentally challenging leisure activities, such as reading, playing games or playing a musical instrument Frequent social interactions
Scientists can't yet explain this link. One theory is that using your brain develops more cell-to-cell connections, which protects your brain against the impact of Alzheimer-related changes. Another theory is that it may be harder to measure cognitive decline in people who exercise their minds frequently or who have more education. Still another explanation is that people with Alzheimer's disease may be less inclined to seek out stimulating activities years before their disease can be diagnosed.
Memory loss, impaired judgment and other cognitive changes caused by Alzheimer's can complicate treatment for other health conditions. A person with Alzheimer's disease may not be able to:
Communicate that he or she is experiencing pain — for example, from a dental problem Report symptoms of another illness
Follow a prescribed treatment plan
Notice or describe medication side effects
As Alzheimer's disease progresses to later stages, brain changes begin to affect physical functions, such as swallowing, balance, and bowel and bladder control. These effects can increase vulnerability to additional health problems such as:
Pneumonia and other infections. Difficulty swallowing may cause people with Alzheimer's to inhale (aspirate) food or liquid into their airways and lungs, which can lead to pneumonia. Inability to control emptying of the bladder (urinary incontinence) may require placement of a tube to drain and collect urine (urinary catheter). Having a catheter increases your risk of urinary tract infections, which can lead to more-serious,...
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