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How my Risk of Developing Alzheimers or Dementia Increases

“My mother has Alzheimer’s. Does that increase my risk of developing it too?” It’s normal for all of us, as we age, to have concerns about losing our mental fitness or eventually developing some form of dementia. Unfortunately, there is no way to know for certain whether you will ever suffer with a disease like Alzheimer’s, but there are certain risk factors that could increase your potential for developing some form of dementia related to a disease process in the brain. While you may have no control over some of the risks involved, knowing them can help you become more proactive in guarding your mental health and doing all you can to avoid facing an illness like Alzheimer’s disease.

As you grow older and hit the those 50-something years you may notice that it takes you a little more time to recall pieces of information that you don’t work with on a daily basis. You may find yourself frustrated when you see a familiar face from the past but can’t put a name to it, or you get home from the grocery store only to realize that you forgot one item on your mental list. For most of us, these are just normal indications that our brains are compensating to manage the massive amounts of information that we have acquired through the years in a way that will be the most useful to us. Needing a little extra time to pull up those names, dates, and pieces of trivia into the frontal cortex of your brain is not cause for alarm.

There are, however, other warning signs that accompany memory loss that may suggest an underlying disease process. By examining the risk factors involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease you can learn how to help to counteract their negative influences in your life.


Scientists do know that the potential for developing Alzheimer’s disease generally increases with age. This is probably due to a decrease in healthy brain cells and reduced activity in the synapses of the brain. But “age” is both a chronological reality and a mindset. While there is no way to circumvent the biology of aging, keeping a positive attitude about getting older increases the likelihood that an elderly person will remain active and maintain a generative brain.


Studies suggest that if a parent, sibling, or child develops Alzheimer’s that it increases the potential for other family members as well. Scientists have discovered the presence of a particular risk gene (APOE-e4)[1] that may heighten the possibility of developing a form of dementia. This gene is linked to increased levels of cholesterol in the brain. While genetics may predispose you toward the potential for Alzheimer’s, it is important to realize that this gene is only one of several risk factors and that even multiple factors don’t sentence you to developing the disease.

Medical History

Because an adequate blood supply to the brain is essential in its health, certain medical conditions may predispose you toward developing a dementia-like illness. These include high blood pressure, a history of coronary heart disease, a prior stroke, or head injury. Making sure that, if you do develop high blood pressure, you take steps to control it is an important part of preventing a stroke. A heart-healthy and low cholesterol diet and regular exercise can help prevent heart disease. No matter how old you are, now is the time to become proactive in taking ownership of your physical health to minimize its role in the development of brain disease.

Lack of Mental Stimulation

It’s interesting to note that studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of education develop dementia less often. This is certainly not because you hold an advanced degree. What is probably associated with education is its role in keeping the brain vital through regular cognitive exercises that help to repair and build new synapses. So whether you have advanced education, or not, you can keep your brain stimulated by reading, doing word puzzles, writing, playing games that stimulate the brain, participating in new learning experiences, and staying socially active.

Early Signs of Cognitive Decline

Of all of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s this one is the most difficult to quantify. There are many reasons for an individual to exhibit memory loss and/or mental confusion. While the natural process of aging may be one of them, anxiety, burn-out, too much stress, and complications due other mental health issues like ADHD can all contribute to increased signs of cognitive decline as we grow older. What is most important is that you focus on retaining good mental health even while your body is physically aging. Here are some ideas to help you take charge of your mental and physical health.

Get regular exercise Develop consistent sleep patterns Decrease sources of stress Get counseling to help manage anxiety and increase your ability to cope Stay socially active Maintain a healthy diet Using nutrients and supplements See your doctor regularly and take necessary medications to manage healthcare issues Keep your brain stimulated through activities that sharpen cognition Work at maintaining a positive outlook on life

Alzheimer’s disease is a frightening reality for many. You may have seen its impact on loved ones and friends. But only 5% of the population between the ages of 65 and 74 is diagnosed with it.[2] And although the risk factors increase with age, there is much that you can do to decrease your potential of developing any kind of brain-related disease. But in order to minimize your risk factor you have to take charge of your physical and mental health and focus on the positive steps that you can take. So now that you know your risk factors, instead of worrying about what could happen to you, maintain a positive mental attitude and center your thoughts on keeping yourself as physically and mentally fit as you possibly can.

[1] http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_factors.asp

[2] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-disease/DS00161/DSECTION=risk-factors