There is a genetic link to Alzheimer’s and some dementia-related diseases. However, whether or not a person develops dementia is more complicated than whether or not they carry a specific gene. There are a range of factors, in addition to genetics, that catalyze or activate dementia onset.

So, while health professionals may advocate for genetic testing to learn more about your risk, physicians and neurologists acknowledge that lifestyle choices are equally important in minimizing or slowing down dementia onset and progression.

The Role of Genes in Dementia

Genetics play a single role—one of many—in determining whether an individual develops dementia during their lifetime. To understand the answer to the query, “Is dementia hereditary or genetic?” a basic understanding of genetics is in order.

For a more detailed explanation of the relationship between genes and dementia, we recommend visiting the NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Genetic Fact Sheet. The simple answer is that, in most cases, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not passed down from parent to child. The general conclusion is:

In most cases, Alzheimer’s does not have a single genetic cause. Instead, it can be influenced by multiple genes in combination with lifestyle and environmental factors. Consequently, a person may carry more than one gene or group of genes that can increase or reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Ultimately, unless you have one of the rare gene mutations or very rare forms of inherited dementia, the genes passed down to you by your parents put you in a higher risk bracket for developing dementia if and only if other related factors are in place.

So, while you might carry a gene (or genes) making you prone to having dementia (like APOE4), that does not necessarily mean that you will get it.

Familial FTD Is a Rare Exception

There is a rare form of dementia called frontotemporal lobe dementia (FTD) that can be passed from parent to child. While most cases of FTD—which has an earlier onset than most forms of dementia—are not caused by heredity or genetics, about 10 to 15 out of every 100 cases of FTD have a version called “familial FTD” which is inherited directly from a parent.

If you have a parent with FTD, you can look into genetic testing and counseling. This can help you to make informed decisions about long-term care plans and financing. Again, this is a very rare form of dementia, but it is one worth knowing about—especially if you or a parent has a history of familial FTD and you are planning to start a family.

Factors Involved in Genetic Expression Leading to Dementia

Most adults with Alzheimer’s or general dementia have multiple factors leading up to their diagnosis and disease progression. This includes things like:

Your Age

Other than some of the rare forms of dementia or those related to other diseases (Parkinson’s, ALS, etc.), most people with dementia do not experience signs or symptoms of dementia until after age 65. According to the NIH, the average age for dementia onset is nearly 84 years old.

The longer we live, the higher our chances of developing a chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer, dementia, etc. That said, lifestyle choices are an effective way to prevent and slow the onset of any age-related diseases.

Existing Health Conditions

There is a huge laundry list of pre-existing health conditions that notably increase the chances of developing dementia. These include:

Brain health is 100% dependent on overall health and well-being. So, any of the above health conditions increases your risk of developing dementia. If you or an aging loved one is diagnosed with a medical condition, speak to a doctor about diet plans that manage the disease naturally.

Diet and Lifestyle Choices

Again, the longer you live, the greater your chances of experiencing cognitive decline, including dementia. However, healthy lifestyle choices make a significant impact on whether or not you ever develop dementia and the age at which it appears.

For example, those who smoke, drink heavily, or eat unhealthy diets are more likely to get dementia earlier than those who don’t—and their disease will progress faster. The following lifestyle choices put you at a much higher risk for developing dementia:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking (more than one drink per day on average)
  • Being overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle or not exercising
  • Not acknowledging or treating mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety
  • Not remaining socially or mentally engaged

That last bullet point is worth expanding on. If your senior loved one lives alone or can no longer drive to social engagements, religious services, favorite restaurants, etc., find ways to support their mental well-being. An active brain is a happy brain and one that is less likely to develop dementia.

What to Do If You Notice Signs of Dementia

The most common signs of early dementia are unmistakable and go beyond the typical age-related “senior moments” of forgetfulness. They include:

  • Repeating the same questions over and over
  • Forgetting names of familiar people more than usual
  • Getting lost or confused about directions in familiar places or along familiar routes
  • Struggling to follow instructions or recipes
  • Forgetting to eat regular meals, take medications, or neglecting personal hygiene/personal care

Any of these signs of dementia warrant a conversation with a general physician for further exploration and a referral to a neurologist if necessary.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, creating a long-term care plan is essential. People with dementia need help to remain safely in their homes, and spouse or family caregivers require respite care and outside support to avoid caregiver fatigue and burnout.

Learn More About Dementia Home Care Services

Have you or a loved one recently received a dementia diagnosis? Whether it is genetically related or not, the next step is to create a long-term care plan that honors your wishes and goals. Contact North River Home Care to learn more about our wide range of senior home care services.

Learn More

Not all home care agencies are created equal. Adults with dementia can only remain safely in their homes with the help of caregivers who are trained in memory care. Contact North River Home Care to learn more about our dementia home care services.