Alzheimer’s Disease Causes, Risk Factors and Symptoms

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder. It damages your brain, gradually causing memory loss and cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s occurs when abnormal deposits of proteins form hard plaques and tangles throughout the brain. The plaques grow, causing neurons to die, damaging your brain and causing parts of it to shrink. Researchers believe damage begins years before symptoms appear. 

Alzheimer’s Risk Factors

No one thing causes a person to get Alzheimer’s disease. However, some people may be at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s given their lifestyle, age and genetics. 

  • Age: Most people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are age 65 or older. However, people in their 40s and 50s can be diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In the United States, approximately 5.8 million people have the disease, and for each person affected there are up to three family caregivers impacted.
  • Gender: Alzheimer’s affects more women than men.
  • Hereditary: If you have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s, you’re at a slightly higher risk of developing it. 
  • Mild cognitive impairment: People with mild cognitive impairment may be at increased risk for Alzheimer’s. 
  • Heart health: Older adults with coronary artery disease or peripheral arterial disease have a higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Chemical exposure: Some environmental contaminants, such as toxic metals, pesticides and industrial chemicals may increase your risk.

Alzheimer’s is NOT caused by:

  • Aluminum
  • Flu shots
  • Silver fillings
  • Aspartame

Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Prevented?

The best thing you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease is to make healthy lifestyle choices that support brain health:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Do not smoke

To further lower your risk of cognitive decline:

  • Reduce stress
  • Maintain social connections
  • Stay mentally active and engaged
  • Get quality sleep
  • Protect your head to reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury

Alzheimer’s can NOT be prevented by:

  • Taking supplements such as vitamins E, B and C, gingko biloba, folate or selenium

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer's is difficulty remembering newly-learned information. As it advances, symptoms become more severe, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes, deepening confusion and unfounded suspicions. In the later stages, people experience difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.