Alzheimer  s Disease: Genetic or Environmental?

Can you control whether you get Alzheimer's disease? The answer is...maybe. In some cases, there is nothing a person can do to stop the illness. In other instances, lifestyle and environment may play a part. Here's what you need to know about the factors that increase your Alzheimer's risk.

Genetics plays a large role. After advancing age, the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer's is having a family history of it. If you have a parent, sibling, or even child with the disease, you're more likely to get it. This risk rises with each family member who has it. Genes do play a role in Alzheimer's disease. The gene with the strongest influence on the development of Alzheimer's is called APOE-e4 (short for apolipoprotein E-e4). Scientists believe up to one-quarter of all Alzheimer's cases are due to this gene.

Environment and lifestyle also contribute. Scientists now believe that genes combined with other risk factors cause most Alzheimer's. Your environment, habits and general lifestyle all play a part in whether or not you develop Alzheimer's. What are some of the non-genetic factors involved in this disease?

  • Head trauma. Serious head injury may be linked to future Alzheimer's, especially if there has been loss of consciousness or if there are repeated head injuries. Wear your seat belt, put on a helmet if you're playing a sport, and try to fall-proof your house.
  • Heart health. Your brain health and your heart health are connected. Every time your heart beats, almost a quarter of your body's blood is pumped to your head. Brain cells feed off of the oxygen in this blood. Keeping your heart free of disease is key. Avoiding high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and stroke go a long way toward keeping your cognitive function intact.
  • Lead exposure. Animal studies suggest that childhood exposure dramatically increase your future risk of brain disease.
  • Air pollution. Studies of brains of people who live in smoggy cities show earlier evidence of inflammation and cellular damage that's characteristic of Alzheimer's.
  • Healthy diet. A nutritious diet can lower your risk of many diseases, including Alzheimer's. Many studies demonstrate that eating plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon, markedly lowers your Alzheimer's risk. A Mediterranean diet, relying heavily on nuts, whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fish, has been shown to reduce Alzheimer's risk.
  • Exercise. One study showed that people who were active at least twice a week during middle age reduced their risk of Alzheimer's and dementia by 50 percent.



Alzheimer's Association,
Healthy Child Healthy World,