Alzheimer's in your family

Some facts you should know.

Alzheimer's disease represents a personal health crisis, but it is also a family concern. What does it mean for you if a close relative develops the condition?

Studies of family history say that if you have a close relative who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease - the most common form of dementia in older adults - your risk increases by about 30%. This is a relative risk increase, meaning a 30% hike in your existing risk.

If you are age 65, the risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's is 2% per year, although this also means a 98% chance per year of not developing Alzheimer's. In absolute numbers, a 2% annual risk means that two out of 100 65-year-olds will develop dementia every year.

Family history raises the 2% annual risk by about 30%, to 2.6% per year. That means going from 20 cases in a group of 1,000 to 26 in 1,000, or six additional cases in 1,000. The absolute increase is relatively small, according to the researchers from Harvard Medical school.

Age raises the chance of Alzheimer's more than family history. People in their 70s have a 5% chance of being diagnosed. Again, the absolute change is relatively small.

Genetic testing is not helpful: -

When a relative is diagnosed with dementia later in life, family members often wonder if they should be tested for the "Alzheimer's gene." The short answer is no. It is not going to be helpful, since it does not tell you whether you will develop the disease. It will only tell you if you are at a greater or lower risk.

For Alzheimer's disease that begins later in life - a gene called apolipoprotein E (APOE4) is associated with a greater risk for dementia. If you inherit one copy of APOE4, your risk triples. If you have two copies, your risk is 10 to 15 times higher (this is rare). But having APOE4 does not mean you will definitely develop dementia. About 35% of people with Alzheimer's don't have even 1 copy of the “risk gene”. Knowing that you have the risk gene could instill fear and negatively influence your life decisions.

What to eat to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease?

Researchers from around the world having been studying a variety of different factors that might reduce these risks and keep the brain healthy. A number of studies have confirmed a beneficial effect of a Mediterranean - style diet. This diet includes fish, olive oil, avocados, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and red wine in moderation.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health recently published a study that evaluated the lifestyles of over 7,750 participants followed for five to 10 years. Participants filled out questionnaires to determine their eating habits, and had cognitive tests of memory, language, and attention. It was found that fish was the single most important dietary factor in lowering the risk of cognitive impairment. Vegetables were second best, and all other foods showed smaller, insignificant effects. Moreover, of all the foods evaluated, only fish was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline.

There are lots of good fish to eat, including Atlantic mackerel, catfish, clams, cod, crab, crawfish, flounder, lobster, salmon, sardines, scallops, shrimp, sole, squid, and trout. Just be careful about fish that may have high levels of mercury, i.e. “deep water sea fish” such as swordfish and tuna; these fish should only be eaten occasionally.

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To your Health

Irina Mitkovets

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