Alzheimer's risk can be predicted as early as teenage years

Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating condition that is going to touch millions of aging people. It is incurable, even if treatment options are slowly getting better. Early start on these treatments is probably the best bet, but how can you predict that the person is going to develop Alzheimer’s before manifestation of the first symptoms? A new study  reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference showed that the risk of Alzheimer’s may be apparent as early as our teens and 20s.

There are very early Alzheimer's risk factors that can reliably predict the risk of this disease later in life. Image credit: SidewaysSarah via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Scientists from the University of California, Davis, and their colleagues from other institutions studied more than 714 African Americans from various age groups. Scientists assessed their cognition with  memory and executive function tests. Even after accounting for age and  gender scientists found that diabetes, high blood pressure, two or more heart health risk factors in adolescence, young adulthood, or mid-life  can be associated with statistically significantly worse late-life cognition. The connection between cardiovascular system problems and Alzheimer’s risk has not been researched in detail, making this a very unique and absolutely necessary study. However, there are other early risk factors.

For example, scientists found that for women dementia risk increased with higher early adulthood BMI. Situation of men was not much better – those men who were obese in early adulthood were 2.5 times more likely to develop dementia. Interestingly, this study also showed that dementia risk decreased with higher late life BMI. This shows that efforts to reduce the risk of dementia should begin as early as possible, even if we’re talking about teenagers and people in their 20s. That’s when the impact of these efforts is going to be the most significant.

Scientists also researched a diverse group of more than 2,400 people followed up to 21 years in order to find the link between early-life education and the risk of dementia. Researchers found that higher quality early-life education can be linked to better language and memory performance. It also decreases the risk of late-life dementia. Quality of education is particularly important, as scientists found that older people who attended school in states with lower quality education had more rapid decline in memory and language. Scientists believe this is related to getting more years of school, which was proven to be beneficial for cognitive performance in late adulthood.

Of course, as usual, more research is needed to confirm these results. However, there is now hope that one day we can estimate Alzheimer’s risk early in life, allowing people to make some adjustments to reduce that risk.


Source: Alzheimer’s Association