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Is Dementia Hereditary? The Link Between Family History and Brain Health

Dementia is not a disease but a condition when a person's memory declines. It leads to a delay in their emotional, social, and intellectual skills.

Seeing someone you love gradually forget you, their loved ones, and themselves is painful. But should you be worried if you have a blood relative suffering from the illness? Is dementia hereditary, which can be passed to the younger generation of the family?

If you have a family history of Alzheimer's disease, how high is your dementia risk, and should you undergo genetic testing to prevent it from happening?

Before panicking, it is better to educate yourself about the genetic risk of developing dementia. Let this be your guide in finding out more about Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Is Alzheimer's hereditary? Is dementia hereditary? What factors put you at a higher risk of having inherited dementia? Or is this even possible?

Let's start shedding light on all you need to know about the risk of developing dementia.

Is Dementia Hereditary?

Most types of this condition are brought about by the combination of these two: environmental factors and genetic factors.

In some conditions wherein gene mutations come to play, the patient could develop early-onset dementia. However, in many cases, dementia is not inherited. But there are cases when the condition can be passed on. Gene mutations cause these cases. They include familial Alzheimer's disease, familial FTD or frontotemporal dementia, and other forms of dementia caused by a genetic link or gene mutation.

Is Dementia Genetic?

So is dementia genetic? Faulty genes and mutated gene are only among the many risk factors for developing dementia. Alzheimer's disease, which constitutes the majority of dementia cases (up to 80 per cent), is often due to the combined factors of social, environmental, and genetic mutation.

Patients possessing specific gene variants have a high risk of developing dementia. What are these genetic variants? Gene variants refer to the genes from which the same traits come in varying forms. So these gene variants are the functional genes, not the faulty genes that are either mutated or abnormal. You'll have a higher risk of dementia when you have these gene variants, depending on how certain genes interact with social and environmental factors. This is how a person's genes and dementia are related.

What about familial dementia? You may have heard about familial FTD or frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer's disease, or vascular dementia. When the term familial is connected with the condition, this means the patient inherited the genes or has a family history of dementia.

In some cases, a patient gets dementia through recessive inheritance. This means that they got a mutated or faulty gene from both parents. Familial dementia typically occurs as early-onset dementia, such as young-onset Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, or frontotemporal dementia FTD. In such cases, a person develops dementia from age 30 to 65.

Genetic testing is understanding a person's risk of developing dementia. Genetic tests are typically done if you have a family history or an elderly family member with the condition. You can get it done at a genetic testing service clinic to assess your risk of dementia.

What do you gain from undergoing genetic testing? It will ease your mind, especially when the condition runs in the blood. This means that you have a probability risk of developing the condition. However, genetic testing is not an easy process. It can lead to emotional distress and anxiety, knowing this disease has no cure. If you have decided to proceed with genetic testing, go through counselling with a genetic counsellor first to help you deal with and prepare for the emotional trauma of the experience.

Understanding Dementia Types

There are four common forms of dementia: Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, prion disease, frontotemporal dementia and Lewy body dementia. It is likely to have a form of dementia that is not hereditary. There are also very rare cases of dementia (only a small percentage) linked to certain genes.

Let's take a closer look at the four common types of dementia to answer the question - is dementia hereditary?

Alzheimer's Disease

Among the five types, Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. According to research, Alzheimer's disease comprises half of the diagnosed dementia cases. However, nine out of ten Alzheimer's cases are not hereditary.

Alzheimer's disease affects elderly people aged 70 to 90. Hence the biggest risk of developing Alzheimer's disease is age. Since Alzheimer's disease commonly happens in a person's senior years, it is often referred to as late-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Additionally, Alzheimer's disease can affect a person before they hit 60. It's not a common form of the condition but only affects around 5 per cent of the cases. When it happens in your 30s to late 50s, it's called early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

When you develop Alzheimer's disease early, meaning you're diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, you may have gotten it from a faulty gene. In such instances, only 10 per cent of the cases can be caused by one's risk genes or inheriting the condition from a family member.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia affects a patient's cognitive skills. This is due to vascular dementia resulting in cerebrovascular disease or vascular cognitive impairment.

Vascular dementia causes a blockage to the brain's blood vessels. It can also damage the blood vessels resulting in the brain's lack of nutrients and oxygen. This leads to damage in the brain cells, which worsens vascular dementia.

While vascular dementia is not hereditary, it is typically caused by other health problems that damage nerve cells and brain cells. These health concerns include stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. These are the ailments that can be passed on to your family. This means that while your family may not inherit vascular dementia, they may have a risk gene that makes them at risk of having underlying health concerns. These health issues are the risk factors why they may be concerned about developing vascular dementia.

Like most who develop Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia also strikes people aged 60 to 75.

Prion Disease

It's a rare form of dementia that damages brain functions. As a result, the patient experiences changes in behaviour, personality, and memory. It has a 50 per cent chance of being passed down to blood relatives.

You can inherit the condition via a dominant gene. For example, if you get a faulty gene from one parent and a healthy gene from another, the dominant gene is the faulty one. The vast majority of those who have suffered from the condition get it at ages 35 to 55.

Frontotemporal Dementia

This dementia is also called Pick's disease. It comes as a result of damaged nerve cells due to different ailments. It typically affects the brain's frontal and temporal sides. People with the condition typically experience language skills, behaviour, and temperament changes at the onset of the disease.

While it is rare, a child has an increased risk of having it if their parents have frontotemporal dementia. It usually shows symptoms at age 40, the most common of which is difficulty with language.

Lewy Body Dementia

Since it's new, more studies are being done on Lewy body dementia and Lewy bodies. To date, it still hasn't been proven it the condition is related to genetic factors. However, experts suggest family members of those with the condition undergo genetic testing to be sure.

Can You Reduce the Risk of Having Dementia?

Studies are ongoing about the cure and ways to reduce a person's risk of having the disease. While waiting, it's best to follow a healthy lifestyle, especially when the condition runs in the blood.

You may also want to have other ailments checked, such as Huntington's disease, motor neurone disease, high blood pressure, and more. This way, you can get them treated before they can snowball into other ailments, including dementia. It's safe to assume that lifestyle factors cause dementia. This way, you can make an effort to follow healthy lifestyle routines.

On the other hand, if you have loved ones with dementia, continue searching for the best tips for helping dementia patients. While at it, you must also look into ways to help make life easier for these patients. Read more by clicking this guide.

Final Thoughts

Most cases of dementia are not hereditary, but it is also possible that you will get it from a blood relative's faulty gene. Dementia patients become more challenging to take care of as the condition progresses. You must look into the top dementia care service in Singapore at the onset of the disease of a loved one.

If you need help in looking after family members with dementia, Red Crowns can help in giving them expert care. Being one of top nursing homes in Singapore, they have years of experience in the industry. Reach out if you have a loved one struggling with dementia and its symptoms.

Redcrowns aims to help you live your senior years happily.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Red Crowns Senior Living
CONTENTS
Is Dementia Hereditary?Is Dementia Genetic?Understanding Dementia TypesCan You Reduce the Risk of Having Dementia?Final Thoughts

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