Researchers believe there isn’t a single cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but rather a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle risk factors.

Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that affects the way your brain functions. In the early stages, people with Alzheimer’s often experience memory loss, such as:

  • forgetting conversations
  • forgetting events
  • repeating conversations
  • forgetting the names of familiar people and places

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease, which means that it gets worse over time. People with late-stage Alzheimer’s often need help with most of their everyday activities, such as eating, dressing, and bathing.

Researchers still aren’t sure exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease. But certain factors increase your likelihood of developing this incurable disease.

You can control some factors by making different lifestyle choices. You should also talk with your doctor about what else you can do to lower your risk.

Alzheimer’s is not a natural part of growing older. However, age is a risk factor for developing this condition. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 1 in 9 people over age 65 and 1 in 3 people over 85 have Alzheimer’s.

Women outnumber men when it comes to Alzheimer’s. In fact, almost 60% of people living with Alzheimer’s are women.

By the time they reach age 65, women have a 20% chance of developing Alzheimer’s. When women are in their 60s, they’re also twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as they are to get breast cancer.

One of the main reasons women may have higher rates of Alzheimer’s compared to men is that women tend to live longer, on average, and older age is a significant risk factor for the condition. However, researchers have started to explore whether women may be at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s due to biological or genetic differences, regardless of age.

Researchers have found two classes of genes related to Alzheimer’s. Deterministic genes guarantee that people will develop the disease if they live long enough. Usually, people with deterministic genes will develop Alzheimer’s in their early 40s or mid-50s.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that deterministic genes cause about 1% of all Alzheimer’s cases.

People with risk genes may or may not develop the disease. However, they’re more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people without risk genes. The gene that’s most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s is called apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE-e4).

Alzheimer’s often runs in families. If you have a parent, sibling, or child with the disease, you’re more likely to develop it yourself. Your risk goes up if multiple family members have Alzheimer’s. This could be due to genes, lifestyle factors, or a combination of both.

The gene APOE-e4 plays a role here, too. APOE-e4 coupled with a family history of the disease significantly increases your risk.

People who’ve had serious head injuries are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s. The risk increases if the injury involves losing consciousness or happens repeatedly, such as in contact sports.

Scientists have identified brain abnormalities in people who are likely to later develop Alzheimer’s.

One is the presence of tiny clumps of protein, also known as plaques. The other is twisted protein strands or tangles.

Inflammation, tissue shrinkage, and loss of connection between brain cells are other clues that Alzheimer’s may develop.

Researchers have identified smoking as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. According to a 2015 analysis that looked at nearly 40 studies, people who currently smoke are 30% more likely to develop dementia and 40% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Having high blood pressure may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Researchers have found an especially strong correlation between high blood pressure in middle age and the chances of later developing the disease.

Being overweight can double your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Obesity, or a body mass index of more than 30, triples your risk.

A low level of physical activity has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

While there isn’t a specific exercise regimen that can prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s, many types of physical activity and exercise may benefit brain health, according to a 2021 review.

The review looked at a variety of studies that used aerobic, muscle development, and body condition workouts for varying lengths of time. It found that any activity was helpful.

The following are examples of different types of exercises that may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Aerobic exercises:

  • walking
  • running
  • dancing
  • biking
  • swimming

Muscle development exercises:

  • weightlifting
  • using gym equipment
  • dumbbell exercises

Body conditioning:

  • situps
  • pushups
  • lunges
  • squats

Mental activity might be as important as physical activity for decreasing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Mental activities include:

  • taking a class
  • socializing with family and friends
  • volunteering in your community
  • playing board games or cards
  • reading

These mental activities may help keep your cognitive functions healthy. Social interaction also helps. The key is to pick activities that challenge you.

Researchers aren’t sure why this works. One theory is that your brain develops more internal connections through these challenges, which protect against dementia.

A heart-healthy diet may benefit cognitive function, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The Association points out that the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean diet may lower your risk of both heart disease and dementia.

These diets include:

  • eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy
  • eating poultry, fish, and whole grains
  • eating foods that are low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol
  • limiting red meat, sweets, sugared beverages, and sodium

Make an appointment with your doctor if you’re concerned about your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Keep a journal of any memory problems you’re having and go over it at your appointment.

Although there’s no cure, an early diagnosis will allow you to start a treatment that will help you manage your symptoms.