When a family member receives an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, it has an emotional impact on the whole family. It can bring forth a lot of difficult emotions, decisions, and questions. As your parent or loved one starts facing the challenges that come with memory loss, you might start asking yourself important questions regarding their diagnosis.
- How will I take care of them as their condition progresses?
- What is the best care option for them?
- Because my parent/relative has Alzheimer’s, will I get it too?
As Alzheimer’s and related dementias are becoming more prevalent in adults 65 and older, Franklin Park® wants to share information on the genetic link to Alzheimer’s disease and what exactly that means for you and your family.
To fully understand how Alzheimer’s can be passed down through generations, it’s necessary to have a basic understanding of how genetics work. Each person has two copies of every gene, one inherited from each parent. These genes determine your basic characteristics—from eye color and height to whether you are at risk for certain diseases.
Two categories of genes can influence whether or not you will develop a particular disease: risk genes and deterministic genes.
Risk Genes: These genes increase the likelihood of developing a specific disorder, but do not necessarily guarantee it. It is estimated that 40-65% of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have a risk gene.
Deterministic Genes: These genes are a direct cause of certain diseases and conditions, guaranteeing that anyone who inherits these genes will develop a disorder. Deterministic genes are extremely rare and only account for less than 1% of all Alzheimer’s diagnoses, and when they do, the disease is usually early-onset, developing in a person’s 40s-50s.
The Genetic Link to Alzheimer’s
When it comes to understanding the role that genetics plays in Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to realize that there’s still a lot of research to be done in this area, and experts are gaining new insight every day. However, there are a few instances in which both risk and deterministic genes can be looked at to determine your risk.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s occurs when someone younger than 65 is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is rare—consisting of only about 5% of all Alzheimer’s cases. This form of the disease is more commonly caused by familial history and deterministic genes. If you have inherited a mutated deterministic gene from either parent, there’s a strong chance that you will experience Alzheimer’s symptoms before the age of 65.
Late-onset Alzheimer’s is the more common form of the condition, in which symptoms begin developing in those 65 and older. While late-onset Alzheimer’s is also associated with family history, there is less connection between genetics and this form.
Having a family history of Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t always mean that an individual will develop the disease. Still, those who have a close blood relative with Alzheimer’s may be at higher risk. Alternatively, having no family history does not mean that an individual will not get Alzheimer’s.
The Truth About Genetic Testing
Genetic testing can help identify mutated genes and risks for certain disorders that can be prevented or treated, but when it comes to genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease, support is not quite universal.
In some cases, it can be appropriate to be tested for the presence of the deterministic genes that will cause Alzheimer’s disease. However, since there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are not a lot of valid reasons for this testing unless it is to participate in research trials. At this time, most experts do not recommend routine genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease as the results have no practical impact on medical treatment or health care decisions.
What You Can Do
While it can be alarming to know that Alzheimer’s disease runs in your family, fortunately, there are several things you can do to prevent this condition or slow down its symptoms. By incorporating a few simple lifestyle changes and activities, you can support brain health and potentially prevent Alzheimer’s. Here are a few strategies for promoting healthy brain functions:
- Get plenty of exercise
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet
- Socialize regularly
- Try puzzles, brainteasers, and other forms of mental stimulation
As you navigate through a family member’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, take time to understand the role that genetics plays in this condition. Knowing your family history can allow you to take some measures to encourage brain health for yourself and even your children. As more genetic and environmental research is carried out, we believe there will be a cure to end Alzheimer’s disease altogether.
Franklin Park® Senior Living is proud to offer exceptional memory care for adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. We are committed to understanding the unique needs and challenges of those living with Alzheimer’s and their families.
We invite you and your family to learn more about Franklin Park® Memory Care and our other care options.