Both Parents' Diagnosis with Alzheimer's May Increase Risk for Their Adult Children

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • We often want to think of our parents’ lives as a romantic love story. They met and courted. They had us and raised us well while still maintaining a great career and a welcoming and tidy home. But what if both parents ended up developing Alzheimer’s disease in their twilight years?  What place does that development have in the story we tell and – more importantly – in our own future?


    A new study out of New York University’s Langone Medical Center is exploring this last question. Researchers evaluated whether having two biological parents with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease will increase the chances that their adult children will develop this brain disease.

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    The study involved 52 cognitively healthy individuals between the ages of 32-72 (although most of the participants were in their 40s and 50s). Approximately 60 percent of the participants were women while 30 percent had the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, which is believed to increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers assigned the participants into four groups. One group included individuals whose mothers had had Alzheimer’s. The second group had participants whose fathers were diagnosed with this disease, while the third group had both parents with Alzheimer’s disease. The fourth group involved participants whose biological parents did not have Alzheimer’s disease.


    Brain imaging was used to see if the participants’ brains were displaying any changes -- such as the development of beta-amyloid deposits and decreasing gray matter in the brain -- that are characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found differences in the group that included participants who had both biological parents diagnosed with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. This group showed more severe abnormalities in the brain scan, including more regions of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s.  These findings suggest genetics may play a larger role in the development of the late-onset version of the disease.


    However, these findings do not mean that these people are going to develop Alzheimer’s disease. As I mentioned in a previous sharepost on the Nun’s Study, some people display no symptoms of this disease even though their brains may be riddled with plaque.


    Still, knowing that both of your parents had dementia and that these brain changes could be happening right now in your own brain probably makes you want to take whatever steps you can to bolster your brain’s health. So what can you do? The National Institute on Aging points out while researchers have not determined why late-onset Alzheimer’s disease develops, they do believe that lifestyle and environmental factors may combine with genetic factors to increase the risk of developing the disease.


    Unfortunately, a gold-plated solution for avoiding Alzheimer’s hasn’t been found yet. However, more and more research does suggest that some lifestyle changes can make a difference. Here are some options to consider:

    • Diet. Eating a healthy diet increasingly is believed to make a difference. As I noted in a previous sharepost, a Mediterranean diet is considered one of the best for maintaining a healthy brain.
    • Exercise. Physical activity increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain, so exercising regularly will help both your body and your brain.
    • Avoid head trauma. This topic has gotten a lot of publicity due to the National Football League’s retired players who have brought a lawsuit against the league. However, you don’t have to be a football player to experience a head trauma. Therefore, it’s important to take appropriate steps to protect your brain’s health. One example is to be sure to wear a properly fitting helmet when biking or motorcycling.
    • Stay mentally engaged. Whether it’s doing a puzzle, exploring a new city or being part of a book group, exercising your gray matter improves brain health.


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    Alzheimer’s Association. (ND). Prevention and risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.


    MedlinePlus. (2014). Having 2 parents with Alzheimer’s may raise risk of early brain changes.


    Mosconi, L., et al. (2014). Brain imaging of cognitively normal individuals with 2 parents affected by late-onset AD.  Neurology.


    National Institute on Aging. (2014). Alzheimer’s disease genetics fact sheet.

Published On: February 14, 2014