My mom has Alzheimer’s. What about me?

March 15, 2016

Few things are more disturbing that seeing your parent decline due to Alzheimer’s. A close second is the disquiet you feel thinking that their diagnosis surely means you will also have the disease.

Caregiver 2A researcher at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Gad Marshall, says the cause for concern is real, but should not be overblown. While family history adds to overall risk, the impact is small. Age is a much higher risk factor.

If you have a close relative diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, your risk for the disease increases by about 30%. This is a relative risk increase, meaning a 30% hike in your existing risk.

In other words, if you are age 65, the risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is 2%. So, family history raises that to 2.6% per year.   That’s the same as six additional cases in 1,000.   The increase is small.

People in their 70s have a 5% chance of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Family history raises this to 6.5%.   Still modest.

While there’s nothing we can do about our genetics, there are many ways to reduce our risk for the disease.  Enjoying a Mediterranean-style diet and engaging in regular exercise are two of the best things we can do.

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