Do Genetics Increase Your Risk for Dementia?
If you’ve watched a family member develop and suffer from dementia in their older years, you might be wondering about your own dementia risk. Not everyone who gets dementia has a documented family history of the disease, but it is possible for families to pass certain mutated genes that lead to dementia down through the generations. Inherited dementia is, however, extremely rare. Other factors, including environmental influences, age, and overall health also play a role in determining your dementia risk. Let’s take a closer look at the group of diseases that fall under the umbrella of dementia, and how genetics might affect your risk of developing it.
The Link Between Dementia and Genetics
The most common form of inherited dementia is early-onset dementia. In people without an inherited gene mutation that increases the risk of developing dementia, the most common risk factor for the disease is age. In general, symptoms of dementia start to show in a person’s mid-60s. However, for those with early-onset dementia symptoms can begin as early as a person’s 30s. If a family member developed early-onset dementia, your doctor might recommend genetic counseling to determine your own risk.
Other rare types of dementia that can be passed down to family members include Huntington’s disease and Familial Prion disease. A person has a 50/50 chance of passing these diseases down to another family member due the dominant nature of the gene mutation that causes them.
Overall, genetically inherited dementia is extremely rare. For example, less than 1% of all cases of Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia, can be attributed to an inherited mutated gene.
Other Risk Factors for Dementia
Risk factors for dementia come in two categories: those you can change, and those you cannot. Risk factors you cannot change include age and family history. Risk factors you can change include:
- Poor diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Air pollution
You might also be told by a doctor to “keep your mind active” as a way to lower your risk for dementia. Current science suggests that mentally stimulating activities like puzzles and word games might delay the onset of dementia. Maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and having a strong social network are ways a doctor might also advise you to lower your risk of developing dementia.
Should You Seek Out DNA Testing for Dementia?
If you’re concerned about any of your risk factors for dementia, including family history of early-onset dementia, reach out to your health care professionals. They can advise you on whether or not to pursue genetic counseling to get a better idea of your risk.
If you’ve already taken an at-home DNA test and found results that suggest a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s or other dementias, bring those results to your doctor to discuss additional testing options and any needed next steps.
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