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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Mom's Alzheimer's May Raise Children's Risk

Children of Mothers With Late-Onset Alzheimer's Disease May Be More Likely to Develop Alzheimer's
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 30, 2008 -- If your mother had late-onset Alzheimer's disease, you may be more likely to undergo brain metabolism changes that might lead to Alzheimer's, a new study shows.

But that doesn't mean that Alzheimer's disease is definitely in your future, notes researcher Lisa Mosconi, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

Her advice: "If you're at risk of Alzheimer's because your mother had the disease, you need to make sure that you take special care of your health" to try to prevent or delay Alzheimer's disease.

Here's a look at Mosconi's findings -- presented in Chicago at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease 2008 -- and reaction from experts.

Maternal History of Alzheimer's

Having a parent or sibling with Alzheimer's disease is a known risk factor for Alzheimer's. The new study is about figuring out how that happens.

Mosconi's team studied 66 healthy adults (average age: 64) with no signs of Alzheimer's, dementia, or milder mental problems.

Some participants' moms had had late-onset Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of Alzheimer's, which starts after age 65. Others had a father, but not a mother, with late-onset Alzheimer's. A third group had no parents with Alzheimer's.

Participants got positron emission tomography (PET) scans every year for two years to see how effectively their brain used sugar (glucose).

Throughout the study, all participants had normal mental skills. But those with a maternal history of Alzheimer's had a sharp decline in how well brain regions linked to memory and attention used glucose. Having a father with Alzheimer's didn't affect the PET scan findings.

It's too early to know if the drop in brain glucose metabolism will predict Alzheimer's. Mosconi's team will follow participants to check on that.

The researchers are also studying mitochondria, energy-making structures in cells, because mitochondria DNA are handed down maternally. Flawed mitochondria might be one piece of the Alzheimer's puzzle, but that isn't certain, Mosconi notes.

Clue to Alzheimer's?

The findings are "intriguing," Samuel E. Gandy, MD, PhD, and John R. Gilbert, PhD, tell WebMD.

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