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The #1 Cause of Alzheimer's, According to Science

Age is the best known risk factor, and family history is the most influential factor. 
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
senior woman with adult daughter at home.

5.8 million Americans are currently suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, a progressive memory loss disease, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and that number is expected to triple by the year 2060 to 14 million. What exactly is it, what are the symptoms, and who is more likely to develop it? Here is everything you need to know about Alzheimer's Disease—including the number one cause of the memory-impairing condition. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID and Didn't Know It.

1

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

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The CDC explains that Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia, a term used to describe "impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities." In total, 60 to 80 percent of reported cases of dementia are Alzheimer's. 

It is caused by specific changes in the brain, in areas that control thought, memory and language. In short, Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, often beginning with mild memory loss—like forgetting recent events or conversations. "People with Alzheimer's disease have changes in different aspects of their thinking abilities that eventually affect daily function, starting with complex tasks, but over time eventually affecting even basic tasks," explains Richard Marottoli, MD, Yale Medicine geriatrician and professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

Over time, memory continues to worsen, possibly to the point where an individual may lose their ability to carry on a conversation or respond to their environment. Other issues can include difficulty walking or talking or personality changes

2

How Do I Know I Have It?

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Symptoms of Alzheimer's generally appear after 60. Oftentimes, you may not know you have it, but others around you likely do, says Dr. Marrottoli. "Unfortunately, many people with Alzheimer's disease have little or no insight into their deficits and that may put them at risk with safety issues. That's why it's important to involve family and friends in the process, both for diagnosis and management." Memory problems are the primary symptom, but there are others, according to the CDC:  

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life, such as getting lost in a familiar place or repeating questions.
  • Trouble handling money and paying bills.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
  • Decreased or poor judgment.
  • Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them.
  • Changes in mood, personality, or behavior.

3

Here Are the Top Contributing Factors

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Unfortunately, it still isn't clear what causes Alzheimer's. However, there are a number of risk factors. 

  • Age is the best known risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, with the chances of developing it increasing as an individual gets older
  • Family history is also a risk factor and researchers believe that genetics may play a role 
  • An unhealthy lifestyle may influence whether or not someone develops Alzheimers. According to two studies, lack of exercise, a poor diet, drinking too much alcohol and smoking may increase your chances of Alzheimer's. adequate physical activity, a nutritious diet, limited alcohol consumption, and not smoking may help people.

4

What Is the #1 Cause?

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Dr. Marrottoli explains that while we know what's happening in the brain, It still isn't understood why. "Consequently, there's no single cause, at least that we're aware of yet," he says. Age is the best known risk factor, but everyone grows older. Other than that, family history is the most influential factor. "Having a first-degree relative with Alzheimer's disease increases the risk of developing it by 10 to 30 percent," the CDC explains. However, they also point out that genes do not equal destiny. 

5

How to Prevent It

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Adopting a healthy lifestyle may help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. As previously mentioned, there is scientific evidence that exercise, a healthy diet, limited alcohol consumption, and not smoking may decrease your chances of developing the condition. Currently researchers are also studying whether education, diet, and environment play a role. 

RELATED: 5 Ways to Prevent Dementia, Says Dr. Sanjay Gupta

6

How Is Alzheimer's Treated?

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There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease and treatment is focused on improving quality of life by helping people maintain brain health, managing behavioral symptoms, and slowing or delaying symptoms of the disease.

7

What to Do If You Experience Symptoms

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If you experience any Alzheimer's disease symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider. "Notify your primary clinician for an initial evaluation to determine the extent of the problem and to check for possible contributing factors. In some circumstances, referral to a more specialized dementia center may be warranted," says Dr. Marrottolia. Detecting the disease as early as possible can be helpful in planning for the future and creating an effective treatment plan. And to protect your health, don't miss these Signs You're Getting One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers.