When trying to work out what might happen to us in old age, we tend to look to what happened to our parents, but when it comes to Alzheimer’s, a new study has shown you should really be worrying if grandparents or cousins were the ones who struggled with the disease.
A study conducted at the University of Utah on more than 270,000 people concluded that someone with two grandparents diagnosed with the condition has a 25% higher risk of getting it, researchers found. Two cousins with Alzheimer’s disease can raise someone’s risk by 17%. Someone’s danger of the memory-robbing condition also leaps 43% when three of their third-degree relatives have had it. That means cousins, great-grandparents, great uncles, and great aunts.
Dr Lisa Cannon-Albright, who led the study, said: “Family history is an important indicator of risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but most research focuses on dementia in immediate family members, so our study sought to look at the bigger family picture.
“We found that having a broader view of family history may help better predict risk. These results potentially could lead to better diagnoses and help patients and their families in making health-related decisions.”
This study is particularly relevant in South Africa, where a University of Free State study showed the prevalence of dementia is higher than expected. According to South Africa’s 2011 census, there are approximately 2.2 million people in South Africa with some form of dementia and charity organisation Alzheimer’s SA reports that the disease is highly stigmatised.
“One in three – maybe even one in two of us – will then get dementia and forget almost everything we ever knew. And the lucky others? They will probably end up caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia,” explains the organisation’s blog.
Responding to the study, published in the journal Neurology, Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Although this study does suggest that a family history, including extended family such as great-grandparents, is linked to an increased risk, it doesn’t mean people with a family history will definitely go on to develop dementia.
“Alzheimer’s risk is complex, with many factors at play. By following good lifestyle advice, even people with a strong family history could significantly reduce their risk.”
The Alzheimer’s Association’s tips to help prevent dementia include eating a balanced and healthy diet, getting quality sleep, maintaining good cardiovascular health, participating in formal education in any stage of life, and quitting smoking.