There is plenty we can do now to reduce our risk for
Alzheimer’s disease, new research shows.
BY JAMIE CHAMBERLIN • Monitor staff
The number of older Americans with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease will likely increase from more than 5 million in 2010 to up to 6. 5 million over the
next 10 years, straining the U.S. health-care system and family
caregivers alike, said Margaret Gatz, PhD, of the University of
Southern California, at APA’s 2011 Annual Convention.
That picture could improve if there are significant advances in
treatment and prevention, said Gatz. But at the same time, “the
picture could look worse if modifiable risk factors like diabetes or
obesity continue to rise among those now middle aged.”
Through her more than 25 years of research on cognitive
decline through the Swedish Twin Registry — a sample of
nearly 12,000 twins now age 65 or older — Gatz has found
that diabetes and obesity are among the most significant non-
genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Genes still appear to play the biggest role in Alzheimer’s
risk — her twin data indicate that about 70 percent of risk for
Alzheimer’s is likely genetic. But the findings on diabetes and
obesity strengthen the argument for Americans to embrace
healthier lifestyles, particularly underserved populations, which
are more likely to have these conditions, said Gatz.
“These are the kind of health disparities we are very
concerned about in the U.S. today and now here’s one more
potential implication — a possible increase in rates of
Alzheimer’s,” she said.
Her twin study findings also indicate that many Alzheimer’s
risk factors exert their influence at different points in the life
span. For example, diabetes appears to be particularly potent
as a risk factor when its onset is in midlife rather than late life,
Gatz said. Tapping into the sample’s data on tooth loss before
age 35, Gatz has also found that developing periodontal disease
early in life is associated with a particular risk for developing
Alzheimer’s as older adults.
“Over three times more often, the twin with more tooth loss
is the twin who develops dementia, and we find the same for
Alzheimer’s disease,” said Gatz.