I cannot remember my neighbor’s name, and the harder that I try to remember it, the further it seems to escape my mind. This is scary because the first thing that goes through my mind when things like this happen is dementia. I am growing older. Is it possible that I am following in my mother’s footsteps with dementia?
Is Dementia Genetic?
Many people are concerned that they may inherit dementia, especially as the general population ages. Many of us are caring for elderly loved ones, or we know someone who has dementia, leading us to have our eyes wide-open to anything in ourselves that might look like a symptom of dementia.
Is dementia genetic? A large percentage of the many types of dementia are not inheritable, but there are health-related factors that historically run in families that do increase the risk of dementia.
Common Health Risk Factors in Families
While dementia is not considered an inheritable syndrome as a whole, there are numerous risk factors for dementia that are linked to family history and genetics.
Inheritable risk factors for several types of dementia include:
Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in the inner lining of an artery, mainly caused by deposits of fatty substances and cholesterol. Atherosclerosis interferes with the delivery of blood to the brain which can lead to stroke as well as vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.
High levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) in the blood, sometimes called ‘bad’ cholesterol, substantially drives up the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
Uncontrolled type 1 and type 2 diabetes substantially increases the risk of developing dementia. Many people with uncontrolled diabetes experience damage to the nerves, blood vessels, organs, and brain. These brain changes are precursors to vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.
High plasma homocysteine levels, amino acids found in the blood, can lead to an early onset of coronary artery disease which is a strong risk factor for the development of vascular dementia as well as Alzheimer’s.
Two Rare Heritable Types of Dementia
People with a family history of dementia have only a slight risk of developing the condition due to rare gene variants. This encompasses less than 5% of all diagnosed cases of dementia.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is a rare form of dementia that develops between the ages of 30 to 60 years of age in less than 10% of all people with Alzheimer’s. Experts attribute early-onset Alzheimer’s to an inherited factor in genes.
Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a term that umbrellas a span of uncommon disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. FTD tends to present at a young age, generally between the ages of 40 and 45. Experts estimate that 10 to 15 percent of FTD cases are linked to genetics caused by gene mutations.
The symptoms in the early stages of FTD encompass changes in personality, behavior, and language, unlike the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other dementia types which include forgetfulness, confusion, and memory loss.
Read more about Alzheimer’s and Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), as well as The Many Types of Dementia.
Dementia Vs. Forgetfulness
The good news for those of us that are forgetful and worry about having dementia as we go into our elder years, is that there is a major difference between dementia and forgetfulness.
Forgetfulness is often caused by extenuating circumstances, such as a lack of focus, and compared to dementia, forgetfulness is not a serious disorder of the brain that worsens over time.
Forgetfulness does increase as we age, but it does not necessarily mean we have dementia.
As we age, our chances of developing dementia do increase, but as reported by studies published on NCBI, the estimated average age of onset of dementia in the United States is 83.7 years old.
What You Can Do to Help Forgetfulness
Momentary memory lapses can feel worrisome and frustrating, but forgetfulness and temporary gaps in memory are normal.
Forgetfulness is often a sign that we need to work on aspects of our lives that are important to our mental and physical well-being, such as adequate sleep, a balanced diet, a less hectic schedule, less alcohol use, or less stress.
Forgetfulness can be a sign of depression or anxiety. These are two common maladies that fog our memory banks. Depression and anxiety can be short-term, but when either is chronic or if it affects our daily functioning, we must seek help.
Self-care is a simple tool that can improve forgetfulness. This is especially important for caregivers, but even if you aren’t one, remember to Care for You First, and be aware of the symptoms that stress can trigger in your body (including forgetfulness).
We Are Here to Help
We know that it can feel overwhelming and worrisome when someone that we love becomes more forgetful as they age, and when we feel we are personally experiencing more frequent memory lapses, it can be frightening.
If you have questions, we can help! If you are in the Round Rock or North Austin, Texas area, reach out to us online and request an appointment or call 512-399-5080.