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Alzheimer's disease: Causes and risk factors

Risk factors

Experts still don't fully understand why some people develop problems with their brains leading to Alzheimer's disease.

Factors that may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease include:

  • Age. The risk of developing Alzheimer's disease increases with age. Around one in 6 people over 80 years of age are affected by the disease.
  • Gender. Alzheimer's disease affects women more frequently than men.
  • Family history. If a close family member has Alzheimer’s disease a person’s risk of developing it themselves is increased. However, this does not mean a person will definitely develop the disease too. A less common type of Alzheimer’s disease that starts before age 65 may be directly inherited.
  • Down’s syndrome. People with Down’s syndrome often develop Alzheimer's disease in their 30s and 40s, although the exact reason is not known.
  • Head injury. Some studies have shown a link between Alzheimer's disease and a previous severe head injury.
  • Environmental toxins. Some researchers suspect that increased exposure to certain substances, such as aluminium, may make a person more susceptible to Alzheimer's disease. However, a confirmed link between aluminium exposure and Alzheimer’s disease has not been established.
  • Low education level. Although the reason is not clearly understood, some studies have shown that low education levels can be related to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Smoking: Smokers have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Other factors. Research suggests that high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure (factors linked to heart disease and strokes) may also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's.


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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on May 09, 2016

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