Skip to Content

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

Brain Health: Learning and Reducing Your Risk for Alzheimer's Disease

Monday, November 13, 2017 9:02 AM

As the population grows older, we see an increase in the rate of Alzheimer’s disease. While genetics is the most influential risk factor, recent research has shown that lifestyle choices–like diet and sleep–contribute to the likelihood of Alzheimer’s.

Demetrius Maraganore, MD, Chairman of the Department of Neurology and Director of the Center for Brain Health at NorthShore Neurological Institute, discusses how you can determine your personal risk, and preventative steps you can take today to preserve your brain health.

Why should I be genetically tested for Alzheimer’s disease?
One in five women and one in 10 men will get Alzheimer’s disease in their lifetime. There are at least 20 risk factors that double our risk for Alzheimer’s, but learning your genetic risk–your Apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype–is the best indicator for your risk.

We inherit one APOE variation from each parent, creating six different possible APOE genotypes. Learning your APOE genotype allows you to understand your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Your lifetime risk for Alzheimer’s disease can be as low as 5% but as high as 70% depending on your genotype and sex. Persons with the highest risk for the disease begin to see Alzheimer’s symptoms in the brain even in their 30s. Knowing your genetic risk can motivate you to engage in early prevention.

Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented?
Yes! Alzheimer’s can be prevented. Studies and clinical trials demonstrate that interventions such as aerobic exercise or adherence to a Mediterranean diet can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by up to 60%. There are also many treatable medical conditions associated with Alzheimer’s disease. While it is true the earlier you start the better, there is evidence that even in your 70s these interventions have positive effects on brain function and health.

What can be done for people who carry the increased risk APOE gene variant?
People who have high-risk APOE genotype variants can engage in a brain health program, including risk assessments, surveillance and targeted interventions using personalized medicine. We encourage individuals concerned about their brain health to see a specialist that can determine your individual risk and help develop a prevention plan tailored to you. Interventions may include:

  • Aerobic exercise
  • Cognitive exercises
  • Adherence to a Mediterranean diet
  • Nutraceuticals, which are typically supplements with additional health benefits
  • Medical management of modifiable risk factors

To learn more about reducing your risk for Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other brain disorders, or to learn more on improving your brain health, visit the Center for Brain Health.