Is Alzheimer's hereditary or environmental?

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

I'm adopted, so I don't know if that has any influence on Alzheimer's ... but here goes: My birth grandmother has Alzheimer's, and in my adoptive family several members have Alzheimer's. How much propensity for Alzheimer's is genetically based and how much is environmental?

Community Answers

Loubetty answered...

what are the first steps of alzeheimers....

Frena answered...

The true Alzheimer's picture is unclear partly because of the mis-use of the term Alzheimer's when it's not applicable.

For example, there are certain chromosome damage issues connected with dementia -- so far, on Chromosomes 13, 14, 19, 21 and doubtless as the human genome is studied more, there may be many additions to this number. To me, it's only sensible that these would be called Chromosome 13 dementia, Chromosome 14 dementia and so on, but they aren't.

That may be where familial dementia needs intensive examination and research to find out if there is indeed a familial brain issue.

Another example, about 1/3 of everyone who has open heart surgery suffers cognitive damage which does not improve greatly or at all. and later this becomes diagnosed as Alzheimer's (whereas it was, I guess, the result of anesthesia trauma).

Which is why some hip specialists are now doing the so-called hip replacement surgery with an epidural instead of gas anesthesia.

Collecting material for my books on Alzheimer's, I found that people who later went on to have Alzheimer's had undergone three or more surgeries using general anesthesia. So there's a choice to make on your own behalf.

Other studies show that, things which affect other forms of ill-health, also affect Alzheimer's -- obesity, diet and so on. Which I know still still doesn't solve the Alzheimer's puzzle.

There are also the life-event issues which crop up in Alzheimer's: such as, lack of childhood nurturing (almost everyone diagnosed with Alzheimer's that I have known -- let's say 80 percent); environmental toxicity; longterm heavy meds, especially some seizure and psychiatric meds,head injury (about 1/3 of Alzheimer patients) and so on.

The one thing not at all established yet, oddly enough, is the family heredity issue. Wouldn't it be very useful to look scientifically at those families to find some answers on the as-yet unproven links with dementia?

So I suspect our picture is still confused because the research itself is confused and scattered. Maybe some really smart statistics researcher could enter the field to bring sense to all the different strands and different numbers.

And don't forget the biggie -- that OUR modern Alzheimer's is not Dr Alzheimer's Alzheimer's. He studied what was then called pre-senile dementia, or what we'd call early-onset Alzheimer's.

Confused? Well, that's a sign you're completely normal!

Jolieblonde answered...

Thanks for this response. It gave me several things to consider re my husband's condition. He has had several major surgeries with anesthesia, lost his mother as a small child, father gave him away for a year - and a very unhappy childhood (my daughters think he might have even been molested), worked away from home for 40 years after we married, had a serious head injury a few years ago. It is amazing, the coincidences here. Today he is very weak, incontinent, extremely confused and at times verbally abusive (cursing). He carries on full conversations while sleeping, forgets everything, refuses meds, eats very little regardless of what is offered.
It is good to know I am not alone in this situation, and wish everyone who is all the luck they can get.

Frena answered...

jolieblonde, your story is a very familiar one to me and i really wish researchers would study these issues, but research is directed by drug companies and they want the one-fits-all easy pill to prescribe. too bad.

dementia is scary for the person and therefore when pushed to do things, often that person resists or even gets very angry and these are reactive to caregiver approach, as opposed to mental illness.

suggestions often work better, as in ,"honey, here's your pills the doctor gave you," rather than "i want you to take your pills."

with food, i put it on a plate in small helpings, as colorful and attractive as possibleand possibly in more frequent little meals than three big ones. then just offer, as in "here we are, honey." and back off.

this prevents confrontation and can sometimes help. i find often people will eat what's there who might refuse a question, "would you like some of this?"

i hope your husband had a full alzheimer's workup (without which alzheimer's cannot possibly be diagnosed)and also a consultation with a psychiatrist. (that conversation while asleep is something not typical to alzheimer's -- a few words, yes, but a whole conversation, rare).

so it suggests he might possibly be having other issues, maybe seizures while asleep? i don't know. i'm no doctor. i just have dementia experience to know what "normal" dementia looks like. when it doesn't seem usual, i think further expert attention is a great thing.

and his family history, with the longterm personal isolation also might suggest mental health issues, which can still be helped. it's not too late for him to experience peace in his life.

a friend of mine finally managed to get her deeply troubled and troublesome 82-year-old Mom seen by a psychiatrist (not a neurologist). he diagnosed her with "life-long undiagnosed bipolar disorder".

since then, she has been on bipolar medication which , as my friend says, "has given me back a Mom i never even had before." not drugged up, but a calmer more relational being who can actually talk, laugh and show affection -- things never seen before. she's no longer tormented from within.

so it's worth the extra trouble of pushing for a more exact diagnosis if things don't seem to fit right. don't be shy about insisting. a referral is your health policy right. note down some of those issues, whether life habits or present issues to help the psychiatrist have a fuller picture of your husband's life.

believe me, it might help your whole family. best wishes and good luck with all this!