Identifying the risk factors of Alzheimer's disease

Steve Carlton  |  July 1, 2013

Alzheimer's disease is a cruel condition that can push families to their limit. Although the severity of the condition can depend on a wide variety of factors, the symptoms can be extremely challenging. Alzheimer's can be a difficult illness to predict, but there are certain risk factors and indicators that you can watch out for, particularly if you are considering helping your ageing relative move into an assisted living facility, where constant care and medical attention will be necessary, should your loved one develop Alzheimer's.

Age

It may seem obvious, but age is the most significant factor in the likelihood that someone will develop Alzheimer's. The older a person becomes, the greater the chance they will succumb to this condition. According to the Alzheimer's Society, the disease most commonly affects people over the age of 65, but the risk of developing the disease doubles every five years or so beyond this age. Individuals over 85 years old are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's. It's estimated that dementia affects 1 in 14 people over 65. For people over 80, this figure rises to 1 in 6.

Heredity and family medical history
Scientists are still trying to understand why some individuals are more prone to Alzheimer's than others, but it is thought that genetics and heredity are primary indicators. According to the Mayo Clinic – a leading, non-profit American medical research organisation - an individual's risk of developing Alzheimer's is higher if a primary relative such as a parent or sibling has the disease. However, instances of Alzheimer's due to genetics or family heredity account for only 5 percent of reported cases of the disease.

Lifestyle choices
As yet, a clearly defined correlation between a senior's lifestyle choices and his or her chances of developing Alzheimer's has not been drawn. However, some research seems to suggest a link between an individual's likelihood of developing heart disease and their vulnerability to Alzheimer's. If your ageing relative has a history of heavy tobacco use, poor dietary habits and a lack of exercise, they may be at higher risk of both heart disease and Alzheimer's.

Taking a proactive approach
If you are concerned about your ageing relative's cognitive function or chances of developing Alzheimer's, and you are looking at care homes, speak with the staff beforehand. Ensure the retirement villages you are considering have adequate facilities for seniors with dementia, and that they have trained staff on-site to cope with medical complications that can arise from this challenging condition.