Banner Health
Making healthcare easier

Alzheimer’s Disease Causes and Risk Factors

Back To Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder. It damages the brain, gradually causing loss in memory and thinking ability that eventually impacts a person’s ability to care for themselves. Alzheimer’s occurs when abnormal deposits of proteins form throughout the brain. The number of plaques and tangles increase, causing neurons to die, thereby damaging the brain and causing parts of it to shrink, a process known as brain atrophy. Researchers believe damage begins decades before symptoms appear.

Experts believe there is no single cause for Alzheimer’s disease. Rather, the disease likely develops from a combination of multiple risk factors. Some factors that can contribute to your likelihood of developing the disease, such as age and family history, cannot be changed. However, there are other risk factors that can be controlled, helping to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s Risk Factors

Although scientists have not determined a definitive cause of Alzheimer's disease, there are known risk factors. Some people may be at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s given their age, family history, health, lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors.

  • Age: Nearly 75% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are age 75 or older. However, people in their 40s and 50s can be diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In the United States, 6.5 million people have the disease, and this number is expected to rapidly increase over the coming decades.
  • Gender or Sex: Alzheimer’s affects more women than men, with women accounting for two-thirds of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, mainly because women tend to live longer than men.
  • Race and Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic and Latino people have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than older White people, with Latino people being 1.5 times more likely and Black people being twice as likely.
  • Genetics: Your risk increases depending on the variation of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene you carry on chromosome 19.
  • Family Health History: If you have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s, you’re at a higher risk of developing it.
  • Health: Adults with cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Down syndrome: Those diagnosed with Down syndrome have an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s, with 30% of people with Down syndrome are diagnosed in their 50s and 50% are diagnosed in their 60s.

Despite some claims, experts do not believe Alzheimer’s disease is caused by drinking out of aluminum cans or using aluminum cookware, nor is it caused by flu shots, silver fillings or aspartame.

Knowing your risk factors and how to control them is key to managing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Banner Health is here to support you in achieving a long, healthy life. Schedule an appointment with Banner Health’s caring team of experts for more information about your personal risk and Alzheimer’s prevention.