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An Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis is terrifying, both for the person who gets the diagnosis and their family. Not only do you begin to worry for your loved one, but there’s also a creeping and lingering fear that the disease may one day affect you too. Or that your odds of receiving such a diagnosis have also increased.

But is Alzheimer’s actually genetic? And if so, to what extent? It’s not as cut and dry as you may think. Let’s talk about what you should know as a family caregiver who may be responsible for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

Before we dive into the possible genetic link for caregivers and their loved ones, let’s talk about what scientists have uncovered thus far as potential causes of Alzheimer’s disease. While there are still a lot of unknowns, experts have been able to find answers to a lot of the pressing questions that once lingered around this disease in recent years of research. That research is ongoing, meaning there will hopefully be more answers down the line as well.

Many factors can affect your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, including:

  • Environmental factors
  • Lifestyle factors (i.e., physical activity, sleep, social engagement, and mentally nurturing hobbies)
  • Genetic factors

In addition to these, there are links between the disease and other comorbidity chronic inflammation-linked conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes 
  • Obesity
  • Etc.


This list is not exhaustive. In fact, all accounts report the same thing – not enough is known about the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and its origins to draw concrete conclusions. The good news, however, is that there are things you can do to reduce the odds it affects you. Let’s dive into those next.

Things You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s, Despite Genetics

To answer the first question posed in this article: “Is Alzheimer’s disease genetic?” Yes and no. Genetics certainly play a role, but there are many things you can do to reduce the odds those genes ultimately affect you. Genes are not a death sentence – many genes can be turned on and off with certain lifestyle factors, ultimately deciding whether a gene is turned “on” or “off” in your body. (Source) Here are some of the lifestyle changes recommended by experts to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease:

Lifestyle Factors that Influence Alzheimer’s Disease

As you may expect, the lifestyle factors that most affect you are the same generally good principles for health and longevity overall, including:

  • Getting good rest and having healthy sleep patterns
  • Prioritizing mentally stimulating activities and hobbies
  • Keeping a solid social circle/interactions and relationships with friends and family
  • Eating a healthy, balanced, and nutrient-dense diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean meats/proteins
  • Staying hydrated each day
  • Getting a good amount of exercise each day to keep your body strong, as muscle density is linked to longevity (Source)
  • Etc.

Know the Types of Alzheimer’s Disease

Your genetic risk also may vary depending on the type of Alzheimer’s disease your loved one was diagnosed with. Each involves differently identified genes that can manifest in offspring differently.

Differences Between Late- and Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (Table from NIH)

Late-Onset Alzheimer’sEarly-Onset Alzheimer’s
Signs first appear in a person’s mid-60sSigns first appear between a person’s 30s and mid-60s
Most common typeVery rare
May involve a gene called APOE ɛ4Usually caused by gene changes passed down from parent to child

Understand your Risk

If you’re particularly concerned about Alzheimer’s disease, there is a lot of genetic testing that can be done to better understand and curb your risk early. If you’d like to better understand it, speak to your doctor about the possibility of conducting genetic testing to see what may lie ahead.

For More Information About Alzheimer’s Disease

NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
711 (free relay service) 

National Human Genome Research Institute 

National Library of Medicine 

Closing Thoughts: Genetics & Alzheimer’s Disease

Having a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is terrifying for you, your family, and the loved one in question for many reasons. But you can rest a little easier knowing that while your risk of Alzheimer’s disease goes up by having an immediate family member diagnosed with the disease, it’s not a guarantee (or even a certainty) that you’ll get it. You can do many things to reduce your risk of eventually developing the disease yourself.

If you’re providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, the California Caregiver Resource Centers are here to support you. We are a non-profit network of 11 Centers that support caregivers across the state of California. Every county in the state is covered.

Further Reading: Caring for the Caregiver: Navigating Mental Health Challenges

Caring for the Caregiver: Navigating Mental Health Challenges is an article dedicated to the well-documented difficulties the role of caregiver presents. 

Being a caregiver is a labor of love, but it’s not an easy path. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has uncovered some important insights into the mental health of caregivers, and it’s crucial to shed light on this subject. Click here to read the article.

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