Assessing Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

Families have many things in common, including their genes, environment, and lifestyle. Together, these things may offer clues to diseases, like late- and early-onset Alzheimer’s, that can run in a family.

Late-Onset Alzheimer’s

There is no test yet to predict if someone will get late-onset Alzheimer’s, in which symptoms become apparent in a person’s mid-60s. If someone is worried about changes in his or her memory or other problems with thinking, he or she should talk with a doctor.

A doctor may ask the patient to make a family health history. A family health history can help a person know if Alzheimer’s disease runs in the family. It lists health facts about a person and close relatives. It is a written record of:

  • A family’s health conditions
  • Lifestyle habits such as smoking and exercise
  • Where and how family members grew up

A family health history can show patterns of disease and risk factors. Try to include health facts about three generations — grandparents, parents, and children.

People can’t change the genes they inherit from their parents, but they can change things such as diet, physical activity, and medical care to prevent diseases that may run in the family.

Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

There is a test to learn if a person has the gene changes that cause familial Alzheimer’s disease, or FAD, which occurs between a person’s 30s and mid-60s.

If someone has a family history of FAD, he or she should talk with a doctor about getting tested.

A doctor may suggest meeting first with a genetic counselor. This type of counselor helps people learn the risk of getting genetic conditions. They also help people make decisions about testing and what comes next.