While scientists know that Alzheimer’s disease involves the failure of nerve cells, why this happens is still not known. However, they have identified certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Age
The greatest know risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age. Most individuals with the illness are 65 and older. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s approximately doubles every five years after age 65. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent.
Family History & Genetics
Another risk factor is family history. Research has shown that those who have a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer’s are two to three times more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one family member has the illness.
Scientists have so far identified one gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s but does not guarantee an individual will develop the disorder. Research has also revealed certain rare genes that virtually guarantee an individual will develop Alzheimer’s. The genes that directly cause the disease have been found in only a few hundred extended families worldwide and account for less than 5 percent of cases. Experts believe the vast majority of cases are caused by a complex combination of genetic and non-genetic influences.
Latinos & African-Americans
Because African-American and Latinos in the United States have higher rates of vascular disease, they may also be at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s. According to a growing body of evidence, risk factors for vascular disease-including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol- may also be risk factors for Alzheimer’s and stroke-related to dementia.
Other Risk Factors
Age, family history and genetics are all factors we can’t change. Now, research is beginning to reveal clues about other risk factors that we may be able to influence. There appears to be a strong link between serious head injury and future risk of Alzheimer’s. It’s important to protect your head by buckling your seat-belt, wearing your helmet when participating in sports and “fall-proofing” your home.