As with the many theories behind the cause of Alzheimer’s disease no one is certain as to why some people are more prone to the condition. Because of this there have been several key risk factors identified that may lead to it development and progression.
These are again listed in no particular order as no one factor is the major cause, but all are important.
Alzheimer’s is rare below the age of 65 but the chances of developing the condition increases dramatically as one gets older. Although less than 5% of the population will suffer with the disease before the age of 75, at age 85 or over this percentage rises to almost 50%.
Unfortunately, as the population not only ages but is expected to live longer this means that the number of cases can only increase.
It would appear statistically that women are more likely than men to develop the disease. This may be due to the fact that they have a longer life expectancy or it may be due to the fact that these figures are taken from residential home occupancy which tend to have a greater female population.
One factor that does have a direct link to gender is the role that the sex hormones (in particular oestrogen and Hormone Replacement Therapy) have in either developing or protecting against Alzheimer’s. Research is unclear as to whether HRT may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s or help protect against it. Early studies from the 1980’s and 1990’s seemed to indicate that it played a protective role, however the massive Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study indicated that there was an increased risk of dementia in women taking oestrogen after the age of 65.
3. Lifestyle Factors.
There are several lifestyle factors that can increase your chance of developing Alzheimer’s. These include anything that affects your cardiovascular health (such as high blood pressure and cholesterol) but also poorly controlled diabetes and diet may contribute.
Also included are factors such as smoking, your exercise habits (both physical and mental) and the amount of alcohol you consume – both too little and too much are aggravating factors.
Another factor that can also be included in this section on lifestyle factors are direct exposure to toxins and heavy metals.
As I mentioned earlier in the section on chemical factors it has been believed for a long time that exposure to the heavy metals aluminium, mercury, copper or zinc may increase the likelihood of developing the condition.
4. Level of Education.
Some researchers have suggested that those with higher education are at a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease than those with less education. Although this has been repeatedly demonstrated in several studies the reason for this is unknown however it is believed that the more you use your brain the more nerve pathways and synapses (or brain connections) you make. The greater the numbers of these pathways you have the greater the reserve you have to fall back on if some of these pathways deteriorate. It may also be that the higher the level of education a person has the more they are able to hide or disguise the affects of the condition in its early stages.
5. Genetic predisposition
As I covered earlier there seems to be certain genetic and hereditary factors that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. These are certain chromosomal or genetic mutations and having a close blood relation that has already developed the condition.
It seems that there may be a distinct east / west divide when it comes to the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in society. Research seems to indicate that there is a higher prevalence in urban rather than rural societies and that there is a greater incidence in the west rather than the east. Various studies show that the number of cases of Alzheimer’s disease in Asia, India and Africa is lower than that reported from studies in developed countries such as the United States of America and Europe but the reasons for this are unclear. Many researchers believe that this variance may be purely due to differences in reporting the condition and the possibility that it may be called other things in other areas and societies reduces the number of cases identified.
Having covered the risk factors and theories behind Alzheimer’s disease I would like to make it clear that at this stage it is impossible to predict exactly who may develop the condition. It must be remembered that it can strike anyone irrespective of age, gender, culture or class and therefore with that in mind it is time to move onto how the illness is handled from a medical viewpoint.
Now that I have covered the 6 predisposing risk factors I urge you to read my other articles and investigate my book The Alzheimer’s Alternative which will show you how to greatly lessen your chances of developing Alzheimer’s and slow it’s progression.