Risk Factors

Researchers have been able to identify some risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. It’s important to recognize that risk factors are not direct causes of disease. Having a risk factor means you are more likely to develop the disease than someone who does not have that risk factor. Similarly, reducing risk does not prevent development of the disease. There is no prevention for Alzheimer’s disease. 

For example, age is the number one risk factor for development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. However, young people can also get Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Also, not every older adult develops Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Despite age being the number one risk factor for disease presence, you could be 50 with early onset Alzheimer’s or 90 and dementia free! It is important to keep the definition of a risk factor in mind when learning how to reduce risk and how that plays a role in brain health. 

Associations have been identified between cognitive decline and vascular and metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.  A nutritious diet, physical activity, social engagement, and mentally stimulating pursuits can all help people stay healthy as they age. New research suggests the possibility that these and other factors also help to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. You can reduce risk by increasing your overall brain health

Mutations in the human gene code can cause many diseases, and research has shown that several gene mutations can lead to increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid precursor protein (APP) produces amyloid peptides including beta-amyloid peptides which can ultimately form the plaques that are a clinical sign of Alzheimer’s. Having the Alzheimer’s-type APP gene mutation is associated with 100% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.1

Other gene mutations that lead to Alzheimer’s disease include Presenilin 1 and Presenilin 2. The Presenilin 1 mutation is association with a 100% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease and the Presenilin 2 mutation is associated with a 95% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Only 1% of Alzheimer’s disease cases result from APP, Presenilin 1 or Presenilin 2 mutations.1 These three gene mutations are associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease occurring before age 65.

Another gene mutation with increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease is the Apolipoprotein E4. ApoE4 is a form of the gene that codes for the protein involved with cholesterol transport throughout the bloodstream.1 Roughly 20% of the population has one or two copies of the e4 variant. One copy increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease three- to four-fold. About 2% of the world’s population has two copies of the e4 variant, which can increase the risk by as much as 10-fold. Genetic testing does exist for some of the genetic risk factors listed above. Consult your doctor if you are interested in genetic risk factors.

Health disparities are differences in health status between people related to social or demographic factors. Different populations have different rates of Alzheimer’s disease, often for unknown reasons. For example, women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men. In fact, approximately two-thirds of individuals living with Alzheimer’s are women.2 Rates of Alzheimer’s disease also vary by race and ethnicity. African American and Hispanic individuals are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the population most at risk for Alzheimer’s disease are African American and Hispanic women. 2 In 2018, Alzheimer’s disease was the 6th leading cause of death among African Americans in Tennessee and the 44th leading cause of death among African American women.3


  1. https://www.alz.org/media/Documents/alzheimers-facts-and-figures-2019-r.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4762666/
  3. Tennessee Department of Health, Office of Vital Statistics Data, 2018.

This Page Last Updated: October 11, 2021 at 1:35 PM