Are You at Risk for Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's disease risk factors may contribute to majority of cases worldwide

No one knows for sure whether they will develop Alzheimer's disease or not, but certain factors may increase your risk.

A new study has identified nine potentially modifiable risk factors that may contribute to more than 75 percent of all Alzheimer's cases worldwide.

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is an incurable and progressive disease that destroys memory and other essential mental functions.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.2 million US adults of all ages had AD in 2014.

AD is the most common form of dementia — a blanket term for cognitive decline that interferes with daily life. Symptoms may include memory loss, difficulty completing tasks, confusion with time and visual spaces, mood changes and forgetting locations.

Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and Ocean University in Qingdao, China, studied risk factors of AD in hopes of identifying possible prevention strategies.

Out of 17,000 studies on more than 5,000 patients worldwide, the researchers identified 93 potential risk factors.

The nine risk factors with the strongest links were obesity, tobacco use, narrowing of the arteries, type 2 diabetes, less education, high levels of homocysteine (an amino acid linked to heart disease), depression, high blood pressure and physical frailty.

Taking medications to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation reduced these risk factors.

Folate, vitamins C and E and coffee also helped stave off the disease.

The most important preventive factors, however, were diet and lifestyle changes — both of which may also prevent heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

This finding echoes recommendations from the National Institute on Aging and other AD experts.

Dean Sherzai, MD, PhD, director the Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told Brain Blogger his recommendations for preventing AD.

"Thirty minutes of moderate exercise most days, adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, and engaging in enjoyable activities that stimulate the brain appear to be helpful in delaying onset and influencing progression of Alzheimer’s," Dr. Sherzai said. "So far, no drug can do that."

This study was published Aug. 20 in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Funding sources and conflicts of interest were not disclosed.