Dear Donna,

I am the primary caregiver for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. As her disease progresses, I can’t help but worry that I am eventually going to get it.  

Is Alzheimer’s disease hereditary? Is there a test I can take to find out if I’ll get it, too?


Alisha in Holland, MI


Do Genes Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?


Dear Alisha,

After a family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it is common to wonder if you too will inevitably get the disease.

For the majority of cases, the answer is no.

Only a small percentage of Alzheimer’s cases develop from one of the three genetic mutations known to cause the disease. Alzheimer’s is guaranteed to occur if any one of the following genetic mutations occurs:

  • The gene from the amyloid precursor protein
  • Genes for the presenilin 1 proteins
  • Genes from presenilin 2 proteins

This form of the disease is referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s because its symptoms usually develop before the age of 65. Not only does this form of the disease develop early, but it progresses rapidly. Thankfully, early-onset Alzheimer’s accounts for less than one percent of cases, making your chances of developing it extremely low.


What You Should Know About Genetics and Late-Onset Alzheimer’s


Most cases of the disease are late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Late-onset Alzheimer’s presents itself much differently; symptoms begin after 65 years old and progress gradually.

  1. Genes can affect the risk of Alzheimer’s, but they are not the cause.

Current research doesn’t show a sizeable hereditary risk associated with this disease. Late-onset Alzheimer’s has a genetic component, but the genes themselves rarely cause the disease. Instead, the genes are considered genetic risk factors, and they slightly increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

  1. Having the APOE e4 gene doesn’t mean you will get Alzheimer’s.

The genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s is having apolipoprotein E e4 (APOE e4). The presence of APOE e4 does not mean you will get Alzheimer’s. Many people have the gene yet never develop any symptoms of the disease.

Some people don’t have the APOE e4 gene yet develop Alzheimer’s anyway. This means that although APOE e4 affects your risk of developing the disease, it isn’t the cause.

  1. The number of APOE e4 genes you inherit affects your risk.

Your risk is also determined by the number of APOE genes you inherit. If you inherit one from only one of your parents, you have a higher risk of developing the disease than someone without the APOE e5 gene. If you inherit one from each of your parents, meaning you have two APOE e4 genes, your chance increases.


Should You Get Tested?


Many factors can affect your likelihood of getting the disease. However, genes are only a small part of the equation. Lifestyle is the greatest.

Because the link between having the genes and developing Alzheimer’s is so low, it is not recommended that you get tested. It would be nearly impossible to get an accurate prediction as to whether or not you will get Alzheimer’s.

Instead, adopting a healthier lifestyle will have a more significant impact on lowering your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Here are a few steps to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.


Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities


If the care you are providing your mother is preventing you from being able to care for yourself properly, it may be time to consider an assisted living community that specializes in dementia care. The Heritage Senior Communities Appledorn Assisted Living Center is one.

Contact us to learn more about specialized dementia care at Appledorn Assisted Living.