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Mothers, Fathers and Alzheimer’s Disease

Having a parent with Alzheimer’s disease increases your risk of developing the disease yourself. But people whose mothers had Alzheimer’s are more likely to get the disease than those whose fathers had it.

Those are the results of a new study that looked at the brains of healthy people, some of whose parents had Alzheimer’s. The findings are consistent with earlier research showing that the chances of inheriting the disease from your mother are greater than from your father.

“It is estimated that people who have first-degree relatives with Alzheimer’s disease are four to 10 times more likely to develop the disease themselves compared to people with no family history,” said study author Robyn Honea of the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City. The findings were published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, researchers enlisted the help of 53 mentally alert men and women over age 60. Eleven had a mother with Alzheimer’s, 10 had a father with the disease, and the remainder said they had no family history of the illness.

Each study volunteer underwent a brain M.R.I. scan at the start of the study, then another scan two years later. Although all remained free of serious memory loss and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s, those whose mother had Alzheimer’s had more brain changes typical of Alzheimer’s disease.

Those with a mother with Alzheimer’s had less brain gray matter, a measure of brain vitality, than those without a family history. In addition, those who had a mother with Alzheimer’s disease had about one and a half times more whole brain shrinkage per year compared to those who had a father with the disease. Shrinking of the brain, or what doctors call brain atrophy, is a typical feature of Alzheimer’s disease and also occurs during normal aging.

“Using 3-D mapping methods, we were able to look at the different regions of the brain affected in people with maternal or paternal ties to Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Honea. “In people with a maternal family history of the disease, we found differences in the break-down processes in specific areas of the brain that are also affected by Alzheimer’s disease, leading to shrinkage. Understanding how the disease may be inherited could lead to better prevention and treatment strategies.”

The authors call for more research into the inherited aspects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Having a parent with Alzheimer’s does not mean that you will get the disease yourself. There are many risk factors that come into play. But knowing you may be at increased risk can help to spur lifestyle changes that may help to lower your risk. Experts note that a heart-healthy diet, as well as an active life with lots of physical activity and mental stimulation, may all be good for the brain.

By, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by William J. Netzer, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: R. A. Hones, R.H. Swedlow, E.D. Vidoni, et al: Reduced gray matter volume in normal adults with a maternal family history of Alzheimer disease. Neurology, Vol. 74, March 1, 2010, pages 113-120.

Add a Comment

Dave Sheehan

July 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Interesting, and I hope helpful someday! What jumped out and got my attention was the curious, I would say baffling “hit and miss” of the Alz disease!

Since my dear mom died of heart attacks and my dad of strokes, well, it maybe shouldn’t have come…as such a surprise after all for me!

joan katsines

August 5, 2011 at 10:27 am

I am the 5th child of six children. An uncle and my mother had/has ALZ (mom’s in asst living). I have two healthy boys. And I had a daughter who was born with Down Syndrome & died after a treatment to the spine for Leukemia. The most traumatic, devastating ordeal I ever faced, and this is right up there! I’m curious if there is any correlation between my having a DS daughter & me getting ALZ? Also, are my two sons @ a greater risk for getting ALZ? Any information you can provide me would be very helpful. Thank You!

Patti Kiel

August 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm

My mother DS has had early FAD for 15 years+. She is one of 11 children. of the 11 so far 4 have the disease. 3 are her brothers. In the family, those who look like their mom, brown hair/eyes are not developing it regardless of education, location, lifestyle. Those who look like their father,my grandfather with blond hair, blue eyes, and a distinct jawline, have developed it. My grand father’s sister and his mother had evidence from hx off the AD. My mother looked like them. German and Irish decent… There are 41 first cousins very concerned (especially the blue-eyed ones) about what we can do to help with research. Some may even be willing to participate in a research study of the gene marker patterns as the generations expand. As one who appears directly in line… I am willing to persuade my cousins to collect DNA of my relatives for studies. Journal, etc what ever you need. My mother DS had ECT during the “violent stage” and the disease stalled for her. My uncles , one died this year after that stage and “gork” meeds. The other two are in #2 and #3 . stages. Please advise any next step in our search for someone to use our big family to battle this horrible disease . Thx.

sheila gardner

August 11, 2011 at 10:50 pm

my grandmother had it and my mother has it now. I feel I am forgetting things in a similar way that my mother does. I would like to be able to be tested for it and maybe start taking medication for it. interesting article

Sharron Little

August 16, 2011 at 5:14 pm

To find a slight light of hope that maybe I and my siblings won’t get Alzheimer’s if our mother does not get it is great! We clutch at any hope however faint…our father passed away from heart failure and possible Alzheimer’s .. it is in his family that there is history of Alzheimer’s ..his mother died from it and her father died from it and all but one of her siblings died from it..and the one that did not died from it? died from cancer… so I never needed a study to tell me that it can be handed down from generation to generation..the medical field needed only to study my paternal grandmother and her five siblings to verify this.

nelson peltz

October 10, 2011 at 3:56 am

Great Post! such a nice blog. Thanks

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