Am I at Risk for Alzheimer’s?

Thursday 18 March 2021
Memory loss

Table of Contents


I. Understanding Memory Disorders

II. Genetics & Family History

III. Depression

IV. Smoking & Alcohol Use

V. Diabetes


Understanding Memory Disorders

Memory disorders can develop in anyone, but some people are more at risk than others. Common memory disorders like Alzheimer’s typically occur with age, but several risk factors may increase your risk of developing memory problems. 

Some risk factors are avoidable, while others are out of a person's control. Symptoms of memory loss may include asking the same questions repeatedly, misplacing items, and getting lost while walking or driving in a familiar area. Everyone's condition varies, and symptoms tend to become more severe in progressive diseases like Alzheimer's. In the case of Alzheimer's and dementia, Namenda (memantine) and Aricept (donepezil) may be prescribed to treat symptoms. Read on to learn more about risk factors for memory disorders. [1]

Genetics & Family History

Researchers agree that Alzheimer’s is a condition that is often passed down through families. Several genes may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. The prion protein gene can predict if someone is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Gerstmann-Straussler Scheinker syndrome. Not everyone who develops Alzheimer’s disease has this mutation.

an old gray photograph of two women

If you do have a close family member with Alzheimer’s, you are considered to be at a heightened risk, but many without a family history develop it as well. [2] The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are around 5.8 million people in the United States with Alzheimer’s. [3] 

Depression 

Depression is more than a bout of blues–depression is a chronic mood disorder that may be a warning sign of memory impairment in the future. If you develop a dementia disorder like Alzheimer’s, you are more likely to develop depression, but some studies show that being depressed may also increase your risk of memory loss disorders. Scientists are still working out the exact relationship between Alzheimer’s and depression, but they think that depression can increase the chance of Alzheimer’s or dementia. [4]

Depression causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in everyday activities. Depression may occur for several reasons, such as biological differences, brain chemistry, hormones, or inherited traits. Some people with clinical depression may have misfiring neurotransmitters in the brain, which may cause depressive symptoms. [5] If you become depressed later in life, you are at a 70 percent increased risk of dementia. If you have been depressed since middle age, the risk goes up to 80 percent. [6]

a woman sitting alone on a pier

Smoking & Alcohol Use

Smoking affects all parts of the body, including the brain. If you smoke, you are not guaranteed to develop dementia, but smokers are more likely to develop memory-related issues. Over time, smoking increases the risk of vascular problems. The thousands of chemicals in cigarettes can narrow the vessels to the brain, leading to less blood flow to the brain. 

Toxins in cigarettes also increase stress and inflammation to the body, which is linked to developing Alzheimer's. If you are already at risk for dementia, you should definitely avoid starting a smoking habit or stop completely. [7]

Excessive alcohol use can harm the brain over time. Drinking too much over a long time period can reduce the volume of a brain’s white matter, which is essential in transmitting signals between different brain regions. This can lead to brain function issues, which may increase your risk of dementia. If you drink moderately, you likely do not have to worry about the effect of a drink or two on your brain health. [8] 

Diabetes

Having type 2 diabetes increases your risk of several dangerous health complications. The chance of developing mild cognitive impairment, vascular dementia, and Alzheimer's disease increase dramatically if you have diabetes. [9]

diabetes medication and needles

Type 2 diabetes affects how the brain and other body tissues use sugar and respond to insulin. If you have unstable blood sugar levels, you may suffer damage to the blood vessels. This can significantly increase your risk of vascular dementia, which occurs when blood flow is reduced or blocked in the brain. It is essential to stay on top of your diabetes treatment to prevent memory problems later in life. To avoid these potential complications you may want to:

  • Take your prescribed medications on schedule
  • Eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat milk and cheese
  • Avoid smoking
  • Get 30 minutes of exercise a day [10]

Our memories are precious, so all of us need to take the necessary steps to reduce the risk of memory disorders. If you have any of the above habits or conditions, you may want to talk to your doctor about ways to prevent your chance of dementia or Alzheimer's. If you are already diagnosed, make sure to take Namenda (memantine) and Aricept (donepezil) as prescribed.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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