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Alzheimer's Risk Factors

What Causes Alzheimer's Disease and Who Gets It

By , Caring.com contributing editor
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Quick summary

Short-term memory loss is one of the most noticeable signs of Alzheimer's disease. But the disease process usually begins before symptoms are noticed. To assess someone's risk of becoming one of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer's, it's helpful to understand the risk factors that increase the odds of developing the condition.

What is Alzheimer's, and who's at risk?

Although certain basic lifestyle changes can help delay the onset of the disease in some people, the exact cause of Alzheimer's disease isn't yet understood. Alzheimer's is a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder: Normal brain cell function is gradually destroyed, leading to irreversible declines in memory, cognition, and behavior. But what causes things to go awry remains unknown. It may be that Alzheimer's has several causes or that the interplay between genetic makeup and certain risk factors determines who's affected.

The following questions are based on the known risk factors for Alzheimer's. See how many apply to your family (or to you, to assess your risk of eventually developing the disease).