Family History and Alzheimer's Risk

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation
This is not a simple topic.  The relationship between a family history of Alzheimer's and one's own risk for the disease, is probably more complex than previously expected.

While the evidence is fairly clear that the APOe4 gene plays a role in risk for Alzheimer's, affecting both the likelihood of getting the disease as well as the age of onset of symptoms, accumulating evidence suggests that many genes play a role, as do environmental factors.

A recent study, conducted at Washington University in St. Louis and published in Archives of Neurology, looked at changes in biomarkers in the brains and spinal fluid of 269 research subjects, 160 of whom had a family history of the disease and 119 of whom did not.  Among those with a family history of AD, only a portion had inherited the APOe4.

Interestingly, the biomarkers in the "family history" group,  regardless of APOe4 status, showed similar changes compared to the "no family history" group.  Specifically, a family history was associated with accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain and a reduction of beta-amyloid in the spinal fluid.   This suggests that, while APOe4 genes are certainly important, there are other factors that play contributing roles in this complex process.  


  1. Luckily I have no Alzheimer history in my family.

  2. My mother was diagnosed with dementia of the Alz. type at age 52 and died by age 58, with a confirmed autopsy diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease. I have trouble with my memory & have been to neurologists, had MRI's. They are reluctant to tell me what my chances are, or that my symptoms are related. Am I crazy for thinking I could get it? I thought my chances were 50/50. (I'm 41)

    1. I can relate, Anonymous. My mom died at age 64 of early onset Alzheimer's, and I'm 45 now. I also thought I was 50/50. I'm sorry for your loss. Try coconut oil, 1 tablespoon a day of extra virgin. That has been shown (google it) to help Alzheimer's/avoid it.

  3. Unfortunately, we are all at risk, so no one is crazy for thinking they might get Alzheimer's disease. A family history increases the risk somewhat but I have never seen a study that would place your risk as high as 50/50.

    The best we can all do is to identify and manage our individual risk through regular physical exercise, a Mediterranean diet, tight control of diabetes and vascular risks (hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity), and ongoing intellectual stimulation. We should also avoid smoking and head injuries. These lifestyle choices are the best strategy for maintaining a healthy brain.

  4. Um, 160 plus 119 equals 279, not 269. Which number is a typo? And what portion of the study subjects were found to have inherited the APOe4 gene? "A portion" could mean anywhere from almost 0% to almost 100%.

  5. Good catch on the typo - 160 of the research subjects had a family history of AD and 109 did not.

  6. ...also, in this case, a "portion" meant 49%. Of the 160 subjects with a family history of AD, 49% had genetic risk and 51% did not.