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Is Dementia Hereditary?

Updated on October 24, 2012

Will I Get Dementia Too?

My father has dementia. He suffers from this terrible condition that robs a person of so much more than memories. Over time, dementia takes away one's ability to reason, to process and communicate. It is a long debilitating condition that is heart wrenching for the dementia patient and their loved ones.

Will I too, lose my memories, my ability to communicate? Some days I find myself struggling for the right word or easily losing my train of thought. Yesterday I told my daughter to get the popcorn out of the laundry room. Am I already showing early signs of dementia in my forties or am I just being paranoid because my father has it? I know that I want to do everything I can to learn about this disease and minimize my risk so my children will not see my mind and body deteriorate in this manner.

Is Dementia in Your Genes?

Family history and genes do play a role in some types of dementia.
Family history and genes do play a role in some types of dementia. | Source

What is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's?

Dementia is not a specific disease; instead it is a term used to describe a loss of cognitive functions caused by a loss of nerve cells in the brain. There are many forms of dementia and each has its own cause. According to the National Institute on Aging, one in seven people aged 71 and older have some form of dementia. Alzheimer's is the most common type. The symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, but the most common are:

  • Loss of memory
  • Ability to reason
  • Loss of communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention

Hereditary Factors of Dementia

Although, no one has immunity to dementia, only two to three percent of dementia cases are genetic mutations. Some rare causes of dementia, such as Huntington's disease, is very clearly inherited. According to the Alzheimer's Association, "Many people fear that Alzheimer's disease in the family may be passed on to children and grandchildren. In the vast majority of cases, this is not so." Age is the greatest known factor for developing Alzheimer's. After the age of 65, your chance of developing Alzheimer's doubles about every five years.

However, scientists know that genes and family history do play a role in getting Alzheimer's. In the 23 human chromosome pairs, four gene mutations are now believed to play a role in developing Alzheimer's, with three of the four gene mutations directly related to early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Genes alone are not enough to cause late-onset Alzheimer's disease, which is the majority of cases, but researchers are actively looking for other factors that may play a role.

While our genes rarely cause diseases, they do react with our environment and our body. Here are some steps you can take to lower your risk of getting certain types of dementia.

  • Eat a heart healthy diet
  • Reduce stress
  • Be mentally and socially active
  • Exercise
  • Take B vitamins — folic acid, B-6 and B-12. According to the Mayo Clinic, new research shows these vitamins help lower homocysteine levels and appear to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Avoid head trauma

Appreciate the good days
Appreciate the good days | Source

Alzheimer's Population is Rapidly Growing

According to the 2012 report of Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, our US population is seeing a rapid increase in Alzheimer's cases. An estimated 5.4 million Americans are suffering from this disease. In future decades, as the baby boomers age, it is projected to result in an additional 10 million people with Alzheimer's disease. Today, someone in America develops this disease every 68 seconds. By 2050, there is expected to be one new case identified every 33 seconds.

Difference Between Signs of Alzheimer's and Normal Memory Loss with Age

Signs of Alzheimer's
Typical Age Related Changes
Poor judgment and decision making
Making a bad decision once in a while
Inability to manage a budget
Missing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date or the season
Forgetting which day it is and remembering later
Difficulty having a conversation
Sometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find the
Losing things from time to time

According to the Alzheimer's Association, if you or a loved one exhibit early signs of Alzheimer's, go see your doctor. Do not delay in getting care.

Sources of Information

Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

Alzheimer's Association. 2012 Alzheimer's disease facts and figures. Alzheimer's and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association. March 2012; 8:131–168.

Living with Dementia Magazine - Alzheimer's Society:

American Health Assistance Foundation:

Alzheimer's Association:

Does someone you know suffer from dementia?

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