It’s a very common question for those who have a parent, sibling, or grandparent with Alzheimer’s… is Alzheimer’s hereditary? Yes or no?
Will it happen to me? My children? My siblings?
It’s a scary and valid concern.
Is Alzheimer’s Hereditary?
In this article we’ll explore the question “Is Alzheimer’s Disease hereditary?”
To answer this question, a little lesson in genetics is in order. (And don’t worry, we won’t dive deep into the scientific weeds here!)
Scientists have determined there are two broad types of genes that play a role in Alzheimer’s.
There are genes called “Risk” genes. And genes called “Deterministic” genes.
Risk Genes and Alzheimer’s
“Risk” genes are genes that don’t directly cause dementia or Alzheimer’s. Those who have these risk genes do have a greater chance of developing the disease. However, if you have them, they do NOT guarantee that you will get it.
This is what the research says about risk genes and Alzheimer’s…
Let’s take an example of someone who has these risk genes AND has a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. In this case there does appear to be an increased risk of developing the disease.
This risk of someone in this situation getting Alzheimer’s over the course of their lifetime is about twice that of someone who has no family history of the disease.
Deterministic Genes and Alzheimer’s
Then there are “deterministic” genes. These are genes that directly cause the disease. Essentially they guarantee someone who inherits these genes will develop Alzheimer’s.
These genes can be passed down through multiple generations. That said, scientists have found that “familial Alzheimer’s disease” is extremely rare. It only accounts for less than 5% of Alzheimer’s cases.
So How Concerned Should I Be?
Researchers have made great progress in determining the role genetics plays in Alzheimer’s. And they’re learning more and more each year.
But despite all this progress, the connection between family history of the disease and Alzheimer’s is still not fully understood.
Yes, there’s evidence to suggest a family history of Alzheimer’s increases the risk of getting the disease. And the risk does go up if multiple family members have the disease.
However, family history isn’t the only factor at play here. Things like environmental factors and lifestyle also matter. So a family history of Alzheimer’s does NOT mean it’s a sure thing you’ll develop the disease too.