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According to their latest published facts and statistics, the Alzheimer’s Association reported that someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds. More than 5.7 million Americans have already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and by 2050, that number is expected to increase to 14 million.
As life spans continue to increase, the number of people with Alzheimer’s will continue to increase as well. In the 15 years between 2000 and 2015, deaths resulting from Alzheimer’s disease increased by 123%. During that same period, death from heart disease (the number one cause of death) decreased by 11%. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Of the top 10 causes of death, it’s the only one that has no way to prevent it, no way of slowing its progression and no cure. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the United States for people age 65 and older. One in every three older adults has Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia at the time of their death. It causes more deaths than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.
With statistics like these, is it any wonder that people across the globe are asking questions such as these about this disease: Is Alzheimer’s hereditary? Is it genetic? How do you get Alzheimer’s, anyway?
Just because someone in your family has developed Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t mean that you will as well. If that family member has early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD), however, your chances are much greater, since this type of Alzheimer’s is inherited and passed down through the generations. FAD is caused by mutations in specific genes and if a person receives these genes, they will usually – but not always – develop early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease.
Let’s build a foundation by first going over the basics of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for more than 60% of all dementia cases. Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible and progressive disease of the brain that causes the brain cells and their connections with each other to deteriorate and die. This causes a gradual loss of memory and a deterioration in thinking skills and other important mental functions. In the late stages of the disease, someone with Alzheimer’s loses the ability to perform the simplest of tasks and relies upon someone else to provide every element of care. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of premature senility.
There are two types of Alzheimer’s disease. The most common type is late-onset Alzheimer’s. Symptoms generally first appear when a person is in their mid-sixties or older. The second type, early-onset Alzheimer’s, is quite rare. Of the 5.7 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, only approximately 200,000 of those are early-onset. Early-onset’s symptoms typically appear between the ages of 30 and 65.
Alzheimer’s disease cannot be conclusively diagnosed until after death when medical professionals can closely examine the brain tissue under a microscope. Upon examining the tissue, doctors are looking for the definitive plaques (beta-amyloid plaques) and tangles (neurofibrillary/tau) that were first identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906.
The reason memory loss is the first symptom detected by someone with Alzheimer’s is because the deterioration of the brain begins in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for the storage of memories and the forming of new ones. As brain cells continue to die, other parts of the brain (and its associated mental capabilities and processes) are affected. By the time the final stage of Alzheimer’s sets in, damage to the brain is widespread and the brain is significantly reduced in size.
A decline in other aspects of brain function occurs in the early stages as well, such as impaired reasoning or judgment, problems with visual-spatial relationships and difficulty finding the right words.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s experience difficulties performing everyday tasks such as paying bills, cooking a meal or driving a car. They may lose items or put them in unusual places, find even simple things confusing, can get lost easily and may repeatedly ask the same questions over and over. Persons with the disease may become depressed, angry, worried and even violent.
Most Alzheimer’s is late-onset, occurring in the mid-60s with no apparent previous family history of the disease; however, there are some genetic factors which appear to increase an individual’s risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s. Research concerning cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease suggests an even stronger genetic component for the disease.
The more researchers study Alzheimer’s, the more they realize that genes play a significant role in the development of the disease. Genetic mutations, or permanent changes in one or more genes, can cause inherited genetic disorders such as early-onset FAD.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease makes up less than 10% of all cases of Alzheimer’s and occurs between the ages of 30 to a person’s mid-60s. There are two types of early-onset Alzheimer’s. The first, early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD), has been linked to an inherited change in one of three specific genes. Research suggests that other cases causing the second type of early-onset Alzheimer’s may have a genetic component linked to factors other than the three specific genes that cause early onset-FAD.
Each parent passes a set of genes down to a child at conception. These genes carry information that defines various traits such as height and eye color. Genes also play a role in health. Problems with genes, called mutations, even small problems, can cause diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
A biological parent who has the genetic mutation for early-onset FAD has a 50/50 chance of passing the mutation on to their child. If a child receives a gene with the genetic mutation, there is a strong probability they will develop early-onset FAD. Early-onset FAD is caused by mutations on chromosomes 1, 14 and 21. These mutations each play a role in the breakdown of the protein, APP, which is part of the process that forms the harmful beta-amyloid plaques discussed earlier.
Although the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, researchers believe that many factors, including genes, should be considered when it comes to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The greatest risk factor for a person developing Alzheimer’s disease is getting older. Chances begin to increase at the age of 65 and every five years after that, a person’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s doubles. Approximately one-third of all individuals who are age 85 and older will have developed Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers continue to study how age-related changes in the brain can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Late-onset Alzheimer’s, the most common form of the disease, is believed to be caused by a combination of factors including lifestyle, genetic and environmental.
Research suggests that there is a relationship between cognitive decline and vascular conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Metabolic conditions such as obesity and diabetes also come into play. Reducing these risk factors can be helpful in the prevention of Alzheimer’s. A nutritious diet, physical activity, intellectual stimulation and social engagement are all important and have been associated with healthy aging. All these lifestyle choices may also diminish your risk of developing cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Taking the following steps will help you remain healthy, physically and mentally.
10% of all individuals who are age 65 and older have developed Alzheimer’s dementia. Every five years over the age of 65 a person’s chances of developing dementia doubles. If you find that you or a family member are suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, you’re not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association, a trusted resource for those who have Alzheimer’s and those who care for and about those with the disease, provides an online community, support groups, a 24/7 Helpline and a virtual library.
Best of all, however, Tessera of Westchase is here for you as well. In our secure ValeoTM memory care neighborhood, located in Westchase, FL, residents and their families share a special sense of community, in a safe, secure and comfortable setting. Our memory care programming was created specifically for the needs of memory care residents. It’s specially designed to foster social, intellectual, physical and spiritual well-being. Valeo (a Latin word that means “to thrive”) is incorporated into every aspect of our care and services at Tessera. Every resident receives customized care that provides meaningful interactions so that each person can build on their existing relationships and form new connections.
From our gracious amenities and services to our holistic approach to wellness and our secure and comfortable suites, life at Tessera of Westchase is fulfilling and inspiring. Contact us to learn more.