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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

Clue to Alzheimer's? continued...

Gandy, who chairs the medical and scientific advisory council of the Alzheimer's Association, points out that brain's glucose metabolism can fall decades before Alzheimer's starts.

"If you had a baseline [brain] scan and then a follow-up five years later and it showed that your glucose utilization was falling off rapidly and in a pattern consistent with Alzheimer's disease, that would be of concern," says Gandy. He also says "it's certainly plausible that if one inherits faulty mitochondria, that might put you at increased risk for Alzheimer's," though more work is needed to confirm that.

Gilbert -- a professor of human genetics who directs the Center for Genome Technology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's Miami Institute for Human Genomics -- agrees.

"It may be that decreased glucose utilization doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get Alzheimer's disease but that, in conjunction with the wrong type of environment or some other genes that might give you a slight risk, would combine to give it to you," says Gilbert.

For some people, slowing glucose metabolism in the brain might be the tipping point. "But in a lot of people, it probably is just another insult ... another hit in a biological boxing match," says Gilbert.

But family history or not, you can pack some punches of your own against Alzheimer's risk.

What You Can Do

What if your mother has, or had, late-onset Alzheimer's? Here's advice from Mosconi and Gandy:

  • First, get a thorough medical checkup.
  • Next, get any problems like blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes under control.
  • Upgrade your lifestyle with exercise and a healthy diet. If you smoke, quit. And find ways to exercise your brain by challenging your memory and attention.

"Those things are all good for you anyway, and until we have a pill that we can recommend for people, those are the sorts of recommendations that we're able to offer," says Gandy.

What About Dad?

Though Mosconi's findings are all about mothers, don't jump to the conclusion that dads don't affect Alzheimer's risk. "That's too far of a jump," says Mosconi. "There could be a paternal transmission factor but we don't really know what it is."

Gandy and Gilbert agree. Several Alzheimer's genes can come from either parent, notes Gilbert. And Gandy predicts that "there will be risk factors throughout the genome and some may be paternally transmitted. ... I think it would be too soon to exclude that."

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