Risk Factors for Alzheimer Disease
by Michelle Badash, MS
A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition. There are still many questions regarding the exact cause of Alzheimer disease, so risk factors are still being identified.
It is possible to develop Alzheimer disease with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing Alzheimer disease. Currently, risk factors for Alzheimer disease include:
Age is the most important known risk factor for developing Alzheimer disease. The number of people with Alzheimer disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65 until age 85. By age 85, almost 50% of all people have the disease.
Alzheimer disease affects both men and women. Women may have a slightly higher risk of developing the disease than men. Some experts believe that this is because women live longer than men.
Individuals with a parent or sibling with Alzheimer disease have a 2-3 times risk of developing the disease compared to the rest of the population. In addition, there has been a clear genetic link established for an early-onset form of Alzheimer disease. This form of the disease occurs in people during their 30s, 40s, and early 50s. However, a specific gene has not yet been identified. One gene that has been implicated as being a major risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer disease is the ApoE4 gene. Additional genes likely play a role in the increased risk of Alzheimer disease. Scientists continue to study the role of genetic factors in the development of this disease.
Mental Activity and Education
Some research has suggested that people who have higher education levels and continue to be mentally active and engaged in their later years are less likely to develop Alzheimer disease. However, some experts suggest that this finding may be related to the fact that those with higher education levels tend to do better on the psychological tests used to diagnose Alzheimer.
Some theories suggest that Alzheimer disease may be linked to exposure to certain environmental factors, such as toxins, certain viruses and bacteria, certain metals, or electromagnetic fields. Currently, there is no conclusive evidence to support these theories.
Alzheimer dementia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114193/Alzheimer-dementia . Updated August 21, 2017. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Alzheimer's disease medications fact sheet. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-medications-fact-sheet. Updated May 18, 2017. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Hayden KM, Welsh-Bohmer KA. Epidemiology of cognitive aging and Alzheimer’s disease: contributions of the Cache County Utah study of memory, health, and aging. Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2012;10:3-31.
Mendez MF. What is the relationship of traumatic brain injury to dementia? J Alzheimer’s Dis. 2017;57(3):667-81.
Mortimer JA. The Nun Study: risk factors for pathology and clinical-pathologic correlations. Curr Alzheim Res. 2012;9(6):621-627.
Risk factors. Alzheimer’s Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed October 2, 2017.
Shulman JM, Chen K, Keenan BT, et al. Genetic susceptibility for Alzheimer’s disease neuritic plaque pathology. JAMA Neurol. 2013;70(9):1150-1187.
8/23/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114193/Alzheimer-dementia : Ritchie K, Carrière I, Ritchie CW, Berr C, Artero S, Ancelin ML. Designing prevention programmes to reduce incidence of dementia: prospective cohort study of modifiable risk factors. BMJ. 2010;341:c3885.
10/17/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114193/Alzheimer-dementia : Arvanitakis Z, Capuano AW, et al. Relation of cerebral vessel disease to Alzheimer's disease dementia and cognitive function in elderly people: a cross-sectional study. Lancet Neurol. 2016 Aug;15(9):934-943.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 9/17/2014
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at email@example.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.