Alzheimer’s Disease: 7 Conditions That Raise Your Risk

Although we don’t know a lot about the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, having the following conditions may raise your risk or make your symptoms worse.

Anemia

This common blood disorder is defined by a decline in red blood cells. These cells transport oxygen, which is why a common symptom is persistent fatigue. Other symptoms include weakness, shortness of breath, and cold hands and feet.

The condition hits more than 3 million Americans. Some studies have found a connection between anemia and an increased risk of dementia in older adults. One of the most common causes of anemia is an iron deficiency, which can result from a poor diet; it may also be a side effect of certain medications.

The concern is that by depriving the brain of oxygen, anemia could lead to the type of damage seen in people with Alzheimer’s. The results of one 11-year study involving more than 2,500 people ages 70-79 revealed that those with anemia had a 40 percent higher risk of developing dementia than people who didn’t have anemia.

Depression and anxiety

‘There’s quite a lot of evidence that for people who are destined to develop Alzheimer’s dementia, sometimes the first thing you see is depression or anxiety,’ says Pierre Tariot, MD, director of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.

However, scientists say these mood disorders may not be just a symptom of Alzheimer’s—they may actually be risk factors for developing the disease. Because depression and anxiety can elevate levels of the stress hormone cortisol, one theory is that chronically high levels of cortisol can damage the brain.

Interestingly, antidepressant drugs are being researched as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s. ‘Certain antidepressants have anti-amyloid [a protein associated with Alzheimer’s] properties with enough credibility that there are two trials of antidepressants that aim to find out if we can derail the Alzheimer’s process with these drugs,’ Dr. Tariot says.

Diabetes

The link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s is fairly strong. ‘Diabetes is probably a risk factor for multiple reasons,’ says Dr. Tariot. ‘Top of the list is that the disease leads to abnormal inflammatory responses in multiple organs—including the brain. Another reason is that the insulin-signaling pathway is also one of the pathways involved in the breakdown of amyloid.

Finally, diabetes contributes to cerebrovascular disease [conditions that raise the risk of stroke], which is a significant factor for Alzheimer’s.

‘Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, and an estimated 54 million more have prediabetes, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. But the disease can be controlled with diet and lifestyle changes, and medication when necessary, to lower the risk.

Down syndrome

‘The genetics are similar in Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s,’ explains Elise Caccappolo, PhD, associate professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Medical Center. ‘If people with Down syndrome grow old enough, they will develop Alzheimer’s.’ The genetic mutation that triggers the syndrome also causes amyloid plaques—a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease—to build up in the brain over time.

Gum disease

Gingivitis and periodontitis—gum disease—indicate the buildup of harmful bacteria in your mouth, and they’re mobile: ‘These bacteria can travel to the heart and brain and can cause inflammation,’ explains Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, a neurology professor at Harvard University and director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit.

Gum disease is extremely common; nearly half of all American adults have some form of it. Fortunately, it’s also easy to prevent (and treat). ‘Be religious about flossing your teeth,’ says Tanzi. And get regular teeth cleanings and checkups every six months.

Hearing loss

Hearing loss doesn’t appear to cause the physical brain changes that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, but it may be responsible for—and accelerate—dementia, which could make Alzheimer’s symptoms even more severe. ‘Any significant sensory impairment is almost certainly going to magnify or exaggerate the consequences of any cognitive impairment,’ Dr. Tariot explains.

One concern is that if someone’s hearing has been bad or failing for years, it could harm that person’s brain, he says. An 18-year study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging found that the worse someone’s hearing loss was, the more likely they were to develop dementia.

Herpes and other infections

Scientists are researching the connection between certain types of chronic infections, such as herpes, and Alzheimer’s disease. These researchers believe the infections may accelerate the damage of Alzheimer’s by triggering chronic inflammation.

While experts once thought the amyloid plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease were junk, they now theorize that the plaque may be the body’s protective response to infection. The more plaques the body produces—by repeated herpes outbreaks, for example—the greater a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.

‘At age 50, 90 percent of the population carries HHVI, the herpes cold-sore virus,’ says Tanzi. ‘If you get a cold sore now and then, don’t panic. But if you’re one of those people who get a cold sore every month or even more frequently, you might want to seek medical attention for antiviral drugs or other therapy.’

Eventually, scientists hope to develop vaccines and drugs to fight these viruses and infections more effectively.

Facebook
Twitter
WhatsApp
Pinterest
Reddit
Delicious
LinkedIn
Facebook
Twitter
WhatsApp

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

READ NEXT

6 Surprising Health Benefits of Eating Watermelon

Watermelon is not just water and sugar—it is nutrient dense food. This delicious fruit provides high levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and just a small number of calories. Also,

6 Signs You Have a Mosquito Bite Allergy

Summertime brings with it many gifts—longer days, warmer weather, beach trips…oh, and mosquitoes. While these tiny flying insects are simply a nuisance for most, for other people who experience allergic

9 Unexpected Lyme Disease Symptoms to Watch Out For

When people think about Lyme disease, what immediately comes to mind is the so-called bullseye rash that’s most often associated with the tick-borne illness. However, according to the Centers for

7 Types of Medication That Cause Dry Eyes

Antihistamines Antihistamines such as Allegra (fexofenadine), Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (Cetirizine), and Benadryl (diphenhydramine) block the effect of the chemical histamine, which the body produces in its attack against allergens. They

7 Dirtiest Things You Touch Every Day

We all know that germs can make us sick — from the cold virus that zaps our energy to bacteria like E. coli or salmonella that throw our stomachs for

8 Dangerous Viruses That Can Cause Cancer

Viruses are tiny, infectious microbes. They’re technically parasites because they require a host cell to reproduce. Upon entry, the virus uses components of the host cell to complete its life

These 5 Common Foods Can Cause Inflammation

Of the 10 leading causes of death, eight of them have been linked to the same underlying cause: inflammation, a chronically on-high-alert immune system response. What’s more, certain types of

7 Very Surprising Tips to Destroy Belly Fat

Drink Tequila Research from the American Chemical Society has shown that drinking tequila can help you lose weight. Wait, what? The short version is that the agave plant, the thing

Scroll to Top