APOE 4 and other Alzheimer’s disease Genetic Risk Factors

“So in a sense Alzheimer’s disease is almost entirely genetic but people do not want to deal with that.”

This week we take an intense look at genetics and risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease. Most people dont want to know if they are genetically predisposed and for good reason, it can be scary. With our species evolving and living longer I believe people are going to want to know more, as we discover new ways to prevent dementia and begin to take a more proactive approach to our personal health. That is what keeps me so passionate about developing MemTrax because moving forward as people we must do everything we can to learn more about our bodies and minds.

Dementia doctors

Mike McIntyre :

I wonder doctors, we are hearing about a genetic connection here, at least a family connection in Joan’s case but is Alzheimer’s always that way Dr. Leverenz and Dr. Ashford? Is there often a genetic component or does that sometime put people at ease when they say “I have not had this in my family, so I cant get it.”

Dr. Leverenz :

I think we know age is the by far the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. There are various genetic components, there are some rare families where you actually inherit a mutation in a gene that causes the disease and you essentially have a 100% risk and those people can have very early onset even in their 30’s and 40’s and you will see a strong family history for that. We are finding that there are genetic risk factors that people carry like the APOE gene that increase your risk but don’t mean that you will get it for sure. We are certainly very interested in those risk factors. what does it tell us about the disease. I think even further down the line that these risk factor genes may tell us how people respond to medication so we are very interested in keeping these things in mind as we develop better treatments for Alzheimer’s.

Mike McIntyre :

Dr Ashford do you see a lot of people that want to be screening who are worried about the genetic component and what kind of council do you give?

Dr. Ashford :

Well I think one of the problems is that people don’t realize how important the genetic factor component is. The difference between the genetic factors that occur in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s and the ones that occur later is, when the disease occurs later, just like with women, you are more likely to die of something else even though you had the genetic risk factors. So in a sense it is largely a risk factor and people don’t want to know about their risk factors. There is this genetic factor that Dr. Leverenz mentioned, APOE, and there is the 4 allele that is relatively rare but itself accounts for at least 60% or 70% of Alzheimer’s disease. There is another risk factor in APOE 2 where if people have 2 copies of that genetic factor they can live into 100 and not get Alzheimer’s disease. So in a sense Alzheimer’s disease is almost entirely genetic but people do not want to deal with that.

Alzheimer's  Genetic Connection

Alzheimer’s Genetic Connection

There are secondary genetic factors that we don’t understand so well that effect if you are going to get 5 years earlier of 5 years younger depending on your particular genetic factor. Than of course there are other social risk factors but I think that we are not going to get a hold of Alzheimer’s disease and we are not going to prevent it until we clearly understand what this APOE genetic factor is and what the other factors are that modify it. So genetics to me is very important. By and large people don’t want to know about it.

Mike McIntyre :

But it doesn’t mean that you wont get Alzheimer if your parents didn’t or your grandparents didn’t? You could be the first one?

Dr. Ashford :

Its genetic factors so your parents may have carried one of the genes and both parents may have carried one of the APOE 4 genes and you could end up with 2 of them or you may not have ended up with either of them. So you really have to know the specific genetic type is, not just what your family history is.

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