About Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease IS

  • A physical brain disease that causes slow changes in thinking and independence over 10 or more years
  • Correlated with advancing age: happens more frequently past age 75 years than in younger people
  • The main cause of memory loss in old age
  • Worsened by other brain insults such as stroke or infection
  • A diagnosis that can be made before the patient dies and has an autopsy, but it remains under-diagnosed and under-treated among Asians

Alzheimer’s Disease is NOT

  • A form of insanity
  • Contagious
  • A sudden, overnight loss of reason, ability, or personality
  • Caused by a single known genetic mutation or germ
  • Only found among Caucasian seniors, although most participants in Alzheimer’s research have been Caucasian
  • Curable yet

Who Can Get Alzheimer’s Disease?

People of all races and from all countries can get Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

AD most commonly occurs in seniors over age 75, but a small number of families have a genetic mutation carried through generations that can cause the disease to start as young as age 20.

Most cases around the world are not caused by a known family risk factor or genetic mutation. We call those sporadic AD, which accounts for most of the known cases around the world (greater than 90%).

Why Do We Study Genetics of AD?

Unlike Huntington’s disease, which has a particular mutation test that can predict a family member’s risk for also becoming sick, AD has many different causes. There isn’t just one abnormal protein from a single gene that has caused all cases of AD. Another way to put it is that there is one path to Huntington’s disease, but there are many paths leading to Alzheimer’s disease. We have not been able to draw a complete map of those AD paths yet. Many of the cases we call sporadic today may have a genetic marker or a combination of genetic markers that we just haven’t learned to associate with AD yet. More genetic information is needed to solve this puzzle.

Although having a brother, sister or parent with AD increases a person’s risk of developing AD by three times, we still don’t know what genetic mutations are most important to cause AD.

The small proportion of genetic mutations that consistently cause AD, involving young patients in their 20s or 30s, is not enough to indicate the main change to the brain that leads to the most common AD and a cure.

Genetic paths to AD may differ by race. As an example, one genetic variation that is frequently found in Caucasian patients with AD (called apolipoprotein E4), is much less commonly found among Asians, especially the Chinese, but AD itself still happens as often in Chinese seniors as in Caucasians. There must be other important causes for AD in Asians, and we just don’t know what they are yet.

Researchers have collected much less genetic information from Asian patients than from other races.

For more information, see the following websites:

What Can I Do About AD?

Depression is correlated with higher risk for AD, especially if it has come back several times during a person’s life. Make sure supportive mental healthcare is in place.

Depending on an individual’s metabolism and genetics, eating less fat, red meat, processed grains (for example, flour), and sugars lowers the risk for AD.

In the same vein, Diabetes Type II is correlated with higher risk for AD. Have your doctor advise on whether you need to alter your diet, lose weight or take medications to control this type of diabetes.

Risk factors for heart attack and stroke can also apply to AD. This overlaps with diet recommendations and diabetes above, but also emphasizes that you should remain as physically active as possible. Taking a walk counts as physical activity. Standing up frequently instead of sitting for hours at a time counts as physical activity.

People differ in how much time they want to spend with in the company of others. Those who do not have enough brain stimulation from the challenge of getting together with others are at risk for AD. It has not been proven that playing any specific games prevents AD, but gathering with friends or family for meals or a game of mahjong or to do volunteer activities prevents social isolation.

Caregivers need support. It can be a fulltime activity!

Even if you are not helping to care for a person with AD right now, consider helping a friend who is a caregiver, whether that is to deliver meals and save your friend time in the kitchen or taking the person with AD for an outing to free up your friend to take a break or catch up on other tasks.

For more information about AD or caregiver support, please consult your regional Alzheimer’s Society or Association webpage:

Some people complain about memory loss but are afraid to be formally diagnosed with AD. The advantages of having a doctor and healthcare team involved in your care include:

  • understanding what may change in your life over time
  • teaching family and friends how and when to help
  • helping you to make plans for your future
  • learn if any of the available medications might be helpful to you

Whether you are at risk for AD, have AD, or are simply wanting to help, there are many studies that need volunteers to participate.

This website and the ACAD project are recruiting older persons with and without dementia to answer questions about memory function and to give a sample for genetic analysis. Click the “How to Participate” link to see if you are eligible for the ACAD study.

If you are under age 60, there are still study opportunities that may interest you, based on whether you bear any of the risk factors in the Prevention section above. Go to https://clinicaltrials.gov/ and enter “Alzheimer Disease” in the Condition or Disease search window, then enter your Country, which may lead to designating your City to show all studies that are recruiting volunteers near you.