We know that Alzheimer’s is a combination of genetic and environmental factors—having a parent with the disease does not necessarily mean you’ll develop it. But if you have Alzheimer’s in your family, you can’t help but wonder if it will strike you, too. Maybe you’ve just entered your 60s, and your mom or dad developed Alzheimer’s in that decade. You can’t help but wonder: Is it coming for me?
A new study shows that family history may have a heavier hand in Alzheimer’s than previously thought. Scientists at McGill University found that the closer a person gets to the age their mother or father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the more likely their brains were to have a collection of beta-amyloid plaques, the toxic protein build-up associated with Alzheimer’s.
“A 60-year-old whose mother developed Alzheimer’s at age 63 would be more likely to have amyloid plaques in their brain than a 70-year-old whose mother developed the disease at age 85,” said Sylvia Villeneuve, an assistant professor at McGill University and a core faculty member at the McConnell Brain Imaging Centre at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital.
Not only is the genetic connection stronger than previously thought; a relationship between amyloid deposits and age of parent’s diagnosis was stronger amongst certain people.
“Upon examining changes in the amyloid biomarker in the cerebrospinal fluid samples from our subjects, we noticed that this link between parental age and amyloid deposits is stronger in women than in men. The link is also stronger in carriers of the ApoE4 gene, the so-called ‘Alzheimer’s gene’,” said Villeneuve.
The original study looked at 101 people, and results were duplicated in 128 individuals from a University of Washington-St. Louis cohort, the other consisting of 135 individuals from a University of Wisconsin-Madison cohort.
Study authors hope that the results will pave the way to an earlier identification of those at-risk for Alzheimer’s. While there is still no cure or effective treatment to stop Alzheimer’s, knowing your risk can encourage preventative changes to lifestyle habits like diet and exercise.
“The best time window to prevent Alzheimer’s is likely when individuals are still asymptomatic, before extensive neuronal degeneration has occurred,” wrote the study authors.
This study was published in the journal JAMA Neurology.