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Learning the disease

Who gets Alzheimer's Disease?

More women than men have Alzheimer's in the United States. There are 3.5 million women and 2.1 million men over the age of 65 who have it. That means women make up 66% of the people who have Alzheimer’s in the United States.

Studies show that African Americans might have Alzheimer’s or other dementias 2 times more than Caucasians. Hispanics might have Alzheimer’s and other dementias 1.5 times more than Caucasians people. Today, there are more non-Hispanic Caucasians people who have Alzheimer’s and other dementias than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.

There is not just one cause of Alzheimer's. Researchers think there could be many reasons that someone gets it.

Biggest risk factors

Age

The risk of getting Alzheimer’s goes up as you get older.
  • 3% of people who are 65-74 have Alzheimer's
  • 17% of people who are 75-84 have Alzheimer's
  • 32% of people who are 85 or older have Alzheimer's

Carrying a certain gene

Everyone has the APOE gene. The gene tells the body how to carry cholesterol in the blood. There are different types of this gene: e1, e2, e3, and e4. Some people have the e4 kind of APOE. These people are more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. This does not mean that a person will definitely get Alzheimer’s disease. It means that people who have the e4 type of gene are more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.

Family history

Someone can get Alzheimer’s disease without anyone else in their family having it. But a person who has a family member who has or had Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. A person whose parent, brother, or sister who has Alzheimer’s is even more likely to get it. This does not mean that they will definitely get Alzheimer's disease. But they are more likely to have it than people who do not have family members with the disease.

Other risk factors

Heart disease

The same things that cause heart disease may also lead to Alzheimer's. The two most important risk factors are smoking and diabetes.

Other risk factors include:
  • Obesity
  • Blood pressure that's even a little bit too high
  • High cholesterol
  • People who have one or all of these things when they are middle-aged, or 45-65 years old, are at the greatest risk.

Protecting the heart can help you protect your brain, too. Getting enough exercise can help. A healthy diet can also help.
A healthy diet should include:
- Fruits
- Vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fish
- Chicken
- Nuts
- Beans and seeds

A healthy diet should limit or cut out:
- Saturated fat
- Red meat
- Sugar

Education

There is a link between education and Alzheimer's disease. Keeping the mind working can strengthen the brain. Pursuing higher education is one way keep the brain active. It reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Learning about diet and exercise can help people live a healthy lifestyle. This can help reduce the risk for diabetes and heart disease, too.

Giving the brain exercise can help! Try doing a crossword puzzle or a word search. Exercising the brain can help keep it in shape. It is just like exercising the body.

Traumatic brain injury

A hit to the head can change the way the brain works. This is called a traumatic brain injury. The risk for Alzheimer's disease goes up with each injury.

Traumatic brain injury can lead to an emergency room visit. The most common reasons were falls, being hit by an object, and vehicle crashes.

Although both women and men can have Alzheimer's disease, it is more common in women. In the United States today, there are 3.5 million women and 2.1 million men aged 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s. That means women make up 66% of the Alzheimer’s population in the US aged 65 and older.

Studies have shown that African Americans are twice as likely as Caucasians to have Alzheimer’s or other kinds of dementia. Hispanic people are up to 1.5 times as likely to have Alzheimer’s than non-Hispanic Caucasians. However, there are currently more non-Hispanic Caucasian people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias than any other racial or ethnic group in the US.

Researchers agree that Alzheimer’s is caused by several factors, rather than just one. The greatest risk factors are older age, having a certain type of gene in your DNA, and having a family history of Alzheimer’s. Other risk factors include cardiovascular disease, education, lifestyle, and traumatic brain injury.

Major risk factors

Older age

Although Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging, the risk of developing does increase with age. 3% of people aged 65 to 74, 17% of people aged 75 to 84, and 32% of people aged 85 or older have dementia due to Alzheimer's disease.

Carrying the e4 form of the APOE gene

Everyone has a certain gene in their DNA called APOE, which is short for "apolipoprotein E." This gene usually tells the body how to manage cholesterol in the bloodstream. Most people have a version of this gene called "e3" but some people have a different version called "e4." People with the e4 version are thought to have a higher risk of getting Alzheimer's disease. This does not mean that everyone with APOE e4 will get Alheimer's disease, but it can increase your risk of getting it.

Family history

Individuals can develop Alzheimer’s disease with no prior family history of the disease. People with a family history of Alzheimer’s—especially those who have an immediate family member with the disease—are at a greater risk for developing it. People who have more than one immediate family member with Alzheimer's disease are at an even higher risk of developing it themselves.

Other risk factors

Heart disease

Risk factors for heart disease, like smoking and diabetes can increase the risk of dementia. The age at which someone has these risk factors also makes a difference. Obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol during middle age can lead to an increased risk for Alzheimer's later in life.

Taking steps to protect the heart can also protect the brain. Exercise can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. A healthy diet that focuses mostly on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, chicken, nuts, and beans, and restricts saturated fat, red meat, and sugar can also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Education

There is a connection between education and Alzheimer's disease. Keeping the mind engaged, especially through continued education, can strengthen the brain. This in turn reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Education about diet and exercise can influence a healthy lifestyle. This can help reduce the risk for Alzheimer's disease and can eliminate risk factors such as diabetes and heart disease.

Regularly challenging the brain with engaging activities at work or at home can help to strengthen the brain. These activities, like solving a crossword puzzle or playing a trivia game, can help the brain’s ability to process and remember information for a longer period of time.

Traumatic brain injury

When the brain’s normal functions are interrupted because of a hard hit to the head or something that fractures the skull, it is considered a traumatic brain injury. This can increase the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The risk increases with the number of traumatic brain injuries.

The most common causes of traumatic brain injury that led to an emergency room visit were falls, being hit by an object, and vehicle crashes.

A greater proportion of females than males are living with Alzheimer’s in the United States; 3.5 million females and 2.1 million males aged 65 and older have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That means females comprise 66% of the Alzheimer’s population in the US aged 65 and older.

With regard to race and ethnicity, studies have demonstrated that African Americans are twice as likely as Caucasians to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Hispanics are up to 1.5 times as likely to have Alzheimer’s as than non-Hispanic Caucasians. However, there are currently more non-Hispanic Caucasians living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias than any other racial or ethnic group in the US.

Research has indicated that several factors, rather than a single cause, contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The most significant risk factors are older age, carrying a specific variation of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene called e4, and having a family history of Alzheimer’s. Other less significant risk factors include cardiovascular disease, education, lifestyle, and traumatic brain injury.

Major risk factors

Older age

The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease increases with age: 3% of people aged 65 to 74, 17% of people aged 75 to 84, and 32% of people aged 85 or older have Alzheimer’s dementia.

Carrying the e4 form of the APOE gene

Everyone has the APOE gene, which makes a protein responsible for transporting cholesterol in the bloodstream, but only certain people have a variant of the APOE gene called e4. It does not necessarily mean that a person will get Alzheimer’s disease, but it does increase the risk of developing it.

Family history

Individuals can develop Alzheimer’s disease with no prior family history of the disease. Those with a family history of Alzheimer’s, especially those who have an immediate family member with the disease, are at a greater risk of developing it. People with more than one immediate family member with Alzheimer’s are at a higher risk.

Other risk factors

Cardiovascular

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking, diabetes, and difficulty processing sugar, can also increase the risk of dementia. For some risk factors, the age when people develop it matters. People who have obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol when they are middle-aged can have an increased risk of dementia.

It has been shown that taking steps to protect the heart can also protect the brain. Physical activity can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and so can a healthy diet that focuses mostly on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, chicken, nuts, and beans, and restricts saturated fat, red meat, and sugar.

Education

Connections between education and Alzheimer's disease have been observed. Keeping the mind engaged, especially through continued education, can strengthen the brain and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Education about diet and exercise can influence a healthy lifestyle, lowering the risk for contributing factors such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In addition, regularly exercising the brain with engaging activities at work or at home can help to strengthen the brain. These activities can help the brain’s ability to process and remember information longer.

Traumatic brain injury

When the brain’s normal functions are interrupted because of a hard hit to the head or something fracturing the skull, it is considered a traumatic brain injury. This can increase the risk of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, and the risk increases with the number of traumatic brain injuries.

The most common causes of traumatic brain injury that led to an emergency room visit were falls, blunt-forced trauma, and vehicle crashes.

NEXT: What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Reference: 1. Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures 2019