A Look at Primary Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease

We all hear and see a considerable amount about Alzheimer’s disease in this day and age. In fact, it is fair to state because of the ubiquitous nature of the Alzheimer’s conversation, many of us are rather worried that we will face this disease at some juncture in our lives. On the other hand, you may be like many people and have a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

With this background in mind, a helpful discussion to have is one about the primary risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. In this article, we present and consider the primary risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Age
  • Family history and genetics
  • Down Syndrome
  • Gender
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Head trauma
  • Air pollution
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Lifestyle
  • Heart health
  • Lifelong learning
  • Social engagement


Before diving into a discussion of how age can become a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, you must understand a crucial fact:

Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of the normal aging process.

In other words, the mere fact that you grow older doesn’t mean you will be afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease. With that said, as you do grow older, the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease does increase. 

The Mayo Clinic reports on a research study in regard to the age risk associated with Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Each year, there are four new diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease for every 1,000 people between the ages of 65 and 74
  • There are 32 new diagnoses per 1,000 people of Alzheimer’s disease among individuals 75 to 84 annually
  • 76 new diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease are made for every 1,000 people 85 years of age and older each year

Family History and Genetics

A great deal still needs to be understood in regard to the connection between family history, genetics and Alzheimer’s disease. What is known is that a specific genetic variation increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A variant of what is known as the apolipoprotein E gene, or APOE, increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, about 25 to 30 percent of the population with the APOE e4 allele will develop Alzheimer’s. Bear in mind, however, that 70 to 75 percent of people with this particular genetic factor will not develop Alzheimer’s disease. 

The genetic mechanisms associated with Alzheimer’s disease among family members remains largely unexplained at this time. It is presumed that the associated genetic factors are complex. With that said, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s is elevated if that individual has a first-degree relative with the disease. A first degree relative is a parent or sibling. 

Finally, researchers have identified what are described as rare mutations in three genes that virtually guarantee an individual will develop Alzheimer’s disease. A person need only inherit one of these three mutated genes. With this noted, these mutations appear to account for less than 1 percent of all people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Down Syndrome

A considerable percentage of people with Down Syndrome develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. The belief is that because a person with Down Syndrome has three copies of chromosome 21, they likewise have three copies of the protein that leads to the creation of what is as beta-amyloid, which is key to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with Down Syndrome are also likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population. 


There is some level of confusion among the public regarding gender as a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, research indicates that there is little difference in the risk of Alzheimer’s between people born male or female. With that said, there are more women with Alzheimer’s disease than men because women generally live longer than men. 

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment is defined as a decline in memory or other thinking skills greater than what is experienced among people of the same age. The decline isn’t significant enough to impact an individual’s social or work skills, however.

People with mild cognitive impairment have a significant risk of developing dementia. When the primary cognitive deficit is memory, an individual is more likely to develop dementia in the form of Alzheimer’s disease. 

A diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment should encourage an individual to make certain lifestyle changes. Mild cognitive impairment need not develop into dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Examples of lifestyle considerations include:

  • Develop strategies to make up for memory loss
  • Schedule regular doctor’s appointments to monitor symptoms

Head Trauma

People who have sustained a head trauma, or multiple head traumas, are at a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies indicate that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s as a result of head trauma is greatest within six months to two years following traumatic brain injury.

Air Pollution

Many people are surprised to learn that air pollution increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease for some people. Air pollution is thought to speed the degeneration of the nervous system, which heightens the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Air pollution caused by traffic exhaust and burning word is through to be particularly dangerous when it comes to raising the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption has long been associated with brain changes. A number of large research studies have confirmed that alcohol use disorders (alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, alcoholism) were linked to an increased risk of dementia. This risk particularly is linked to early onset dementia, including early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Poor Sleep Patterns

The Mayo Clinic reports on research that connects poor sleep patterns and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, researcher have learned that poor sleep patterns – both difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep – increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.


Certain lifestyle and general health issues can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These include:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Poorly controlled type 2 diabetes

Heart Health

In addition to the array of lifestyle and general health considerations that can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, heart health seems particularly connected to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. 

Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning appears to be connected to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, individuals who engage in mentally stimulating activities as they grow older appear to reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. 

Social Engagement

Remaining socially engaged is beneficial to a person in a number of ways as he or she ages. Remaining socially engaged reduces the risk of depression, for example. Research also demonstrates that people who remain socially engaged as they age reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Armed with this information, you have a better idea of what to consider when it comes to risks associated with developing Alzheimer’s disease. These include risks that can be tempered or avoided by following some suggested courses of action.