Alzheimer’s family history risk

Results from a study of nearly 60,000 individuals suggest that those at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease due to family history may demonstrate changes in memory performance as early as their 20s.

Researchers from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the University of Arizona gathered the data through an online word-pair memory test called MindCrowd, one of the world’s largest scientific assessments of how healthy brains function.

Study data suggests that those with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, and who are younger than 65, on average do not perform as well as their peers who do not have a family history of Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.

The study results suggest that the family history effect is particularly pronounced among men, as well as those with lower educational attainment, diabetes and carriers of a common genetic change in APOE, a gene long associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk.

While family history has previously been associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s, this is the first study of its kind, and in these numbers, that indicates this risk can be detected up to four decades before the typical age of onset.

The study looked at 59,571 MindCrowd participants aged 18-85, and the effect of family history was shown across every age group, up until age 65.

“In this study we show that family history is associated with reduced paired-associate learning performance as many as four decades before the typical onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” said senior author Dr Matt Huentelman.

Because there is no cure or proven way of slowing progressive memory loss among those with Alzheimer’s, early indicators of the disease can help those at risk to focus on ways to help stave off dementia.

“Risk reduction for Alzheimer’s disease is now more critical than ever due to the continued lack of a cure or effective disease-slowing treatment,” said Dr Joshua Talboom from TGen.

“This study supports recommendations underscoring the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and properly treating disease states such as diabetes,” he said.

“Our findings specifically highlight the positive effects of such interventions for those with a family history risk of Alzheimer’s, opening the door to the development of more targeted risk-reduction approaches to combat the disease.”

Do you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease? Have you noticed that your memory is poorer than your peers? Are you doing things to reduce your risk of developing dementia?

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