Ask a genetic counsellor | What can I do about my risk for Alzheimer’s disease?

Take control of your cognitive health

This month we revisit an article from last year that looks at how genetic testing for a gene called APOE is helping to identify people with an increased risk for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (i.e. which can affect people over 60).

Alzheimer’s disease is multifactorial, meaning it is caused by a combination of co-existing factors, including age, genetic markers, environmental modifiers, the presence of other health conditions, and lifestyle choices. While we can’t change our age or genetics, many of us, especially those who face an increased risk due to family history or APOE results, wonder what we can do to lower our risk for this devastating disease. We know that behavioural modifications can influence our risk for conditions like diabetes and heart disease, which develop because of similar factors. Can this mindset be applied to Alzheimer’s disease as well?

Studies suggest heart-healthy choices, regular exercise, and staying socially and mentally active as we age help reduce our risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Studies also report these preventive strategies are effective, and perhaps even more impactful, for those with a higher genetic risk (i.e. those who carry high-risk variants of the APOE gene).

While scientists still haven’t proven exactly how certain factors, like a healthy diet or regular cardiovascular exercise, work to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, the evidence (based on large studies in aging populations) is strong enough to suggest making heart-healthy and brain-healthy choices does significantly reduce our risk.  For example, keeping your brain active through mentally challenging and social activities such as taking a course in a new skill or subject. Avoiding smoking and regular sleep are also important.

In the Medcan Genetics program, clients are often motivated to change their habits after sharing and discussing their family history of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, or after learning about an increased genetic risk to develop the condition. As research continues to uncover more about this condition, we hope to learn of other factors that we can control or modify to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

In the meantime, it is empowering to know that for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, genetics alone does not determine our fate; lifestyle changes can meaningfully reduce our risk of cognitive decline, while improving overall quality of life as we age.

For more information about APOE testing, please read our 2018 article here, or contact genetics@medcan.com.

If you book your Annual Health Assessment between January 9 and January 31, you will be entered for a chance to win your choice of one of the following add-ons: 10 personal training sessions; Liver Health Assessment; or Genetics and Genetic Counselling. 

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