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Neither of my grandparents had any kind of dementia or Alzheimer's and died in their 80's. Now their three oldest children (80, 78, and 76) have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Could this be environmental?

August 15, 2013

Neither of my grandparents had any kind of dementia or Alzheimer’s and died in their 80’s. Now their three oldest children (80, 78, and 76) have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Could this be environmental? They spent their adult lives in different parts of the country.

Alzheimer’s is not a purely inherited disease, but it does seem to run in some families. A genetic risk factor may indeed be in play here. On the other hand, about 20% of people in their 70s and early 80s have Alzheimer’s, rising to 40% among people over 85.

There is no evidence that Alzheimer’s is linked to the environment and the fact that your relatives live in different parts of country supports that.

Have the three oldest children had a really good medical evaluation and workup? You might appeal to their concerns about their own children to encourage them to go to a research university and memory disorder clinic where a top-notch physician can look at what is happening.

To help your family understand its risk, you might consider having a brain autopsy done after these siblings die. An autopsy can result in a definitive diagnosis that could be a valuable part of your family medical history in the future. Its results are also important to researchers seeking to understand and eventually help treat Alzheimer’s. A research program like this one at the University of Pittsburgh will gladly incorporate your loved ones’ results into their ongoing studies.

Many families in your situation vow to make a difference. Consider writing your congressperson about the importance of increased Alzheimer’s research funding or becoming involved in your local Alzheimer’s association or society. It can be healing to raise funds or volunteer in honor of your family members impacted by Alzheimer’s.

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