The Genetics of Alzheimer’s [video]

Video author: Health Medical Publications Group
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Video transcript

The genetics of Alzheimer's.

Can you inherit Alzheimer's? Is it in your DNA? What role does genetics play in this mysterious and terrifying disease?

These are difficult questions with less than perfect answers. Like everything connected to our bodies and minds, Alzheimer's does have a genetic component. Genes do play an important role, but that does not mean that genes actually cause the disease.

Only a handful of families carry 1 of the 3 rare genetic mutations that will guarantee the onset of Alzheimer's. These mutations account for only 2% to 3% of Alzheimer's cases. It is highly unlikely that you are in this group. The rest of us face more uncertain risks associated with dozens of other genes, some of them already known, others not yet identified.

Unfortunately, as far as we can tell, no person carries a genetic immunity to the disease. That's because genes rarely cause traits or disease directly. Instead of dictating a predetermined outcome, genes interact with our bodies and environments.

The foods we eat, the air we breathe, even our feelings and moods. Genes are like switches that get turned on and off all the time. This unpredictable interaction is part of what makes us so different from one another. Nature and nurture turn out to be inseparably intertwined. In recent years scientists have identified several specific genes that seem to either increase or decrease people's risk of getting Alzheimer's disease.

The next step for these researches is to identify the rest of the relevant genes and then try to figure out what external factors turn them on and start the disease process. Then they can try to develop drugs that interfere with that process. This is not the only avenue for drug development, there are others, but sorting out the genetics may well play a pivotal role in stopping the disease.

What about getting tested for these so-called Alzheimer's genes?

As of now, there is no practical benefit. The results won't reveal an immunity nor will they tell you that Alzheimer's is likely in your future. The hard truth is we all face the risk of Alzheimer's as we grow older. And no matter what your genetic profile, the best way to lower that risk is the same. Eat a heart-healthy diet, try to reduce stress, and regularly exercise your body and your mind.

Learn more about the genetics of Alzheimer's at

Developed in partnership with the Alliance For Aging Research
Made possible by a grant from MetLife Foundation