Experts have recognized that having a parent with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has been known to increase an individual’s risk of developing the disease. But new research suggests that having second- and third-degree relatives who have had Alzheimer’s disease may also raise the risk level.
According to a study recently published online in National Vital Statistics Reports, a publication from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, from 2000 to 2017, mortality attributed to dementia increased, with fluctuations related to age, race and gender. In fact, a recent Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll indicated that Americans fear developing Alzheimer’s disease even more that the prospect of developing cancer. More than five million Americans are currently living with the memory-depleting illness; and it’s estimated that by 2050 that number could more than triple to 16 million.
Among the most important indicators of risk for developing AD is an individual’s family history. The disease risk association between parents and offspring has long been known. However, a new study suggests that having great grandparents and/or cousins who have had Alzheimer’s disease is also tied to an increased risk of developing AD.
“Family history is an important indicator of risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but most research focuses on dementia in immediate family members, so our study sought to look at the bigger family picture, said study author Lisa A. Cannon-Albright, PhD, of the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City. “We found that having a broader view of family history may help better predict risk. These results potentially could lead to better diagnoses and help patients and their families in making health-related decisions.”
Study analysis showed that individuals with one first-degree relative with AD had a 73% increased risk of developing the disease. Those with two first-degree relatives with AD were four times more likely to develop the disease; those with one first-degree relative and one second-degree relative with AD had a 21 times greater risk. Those who had only third-degree relatives, and three such relatives with AD, had a 43% greater risk of developing the disease. For example, there might be two great grandparents and one cousin with AD, but no parents or grandparents with the disease.
“More and more, people are increasingly seeking an estimate of their own genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Cannon-Albright. Individuals with a family history of AD should seek counseling from their providers. While retaining the ability to make necessary decisions in the case that AD develops, charting a plan for treatment and care is a wise course of action. In the meantime, take steps to decrease your risks of developing AD. For example, adopt a healthy diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables,
whole grains, and fish, along with limited amounts of poultry, eggs and dairy. Exercise frequently and get adequate sleep. It’s also important to remain socially engaged as well as mentally active.