If you’re diagnosed with a disease, often one of your biggest worries is whether or not it’s hereditary. Will you pass it on to your children and grandchildren? Or those who are watching their parents struggle with a disease wonder, “Will this be me one day?” Dementia is no exception.
The good news is that in most cases, dementia is not a hereditary disease. However, this does vary depending on the type of dementia, and it may be that the inherited nature of dementia is too convoluted for researchers to fully understand it yet. Genetics is complicated, after all. We can see this with more basic traits: even if both parents have brown eyes, their child’s eyes might turn out to be blue. Or a trait like height may be influenced by several different genes.
Alzheimer’s disease is usually not inherited, though if someone in your family has had the disease there’s a slightly greater chance that you’ll have it too. Early onset Alzheimer’s is one specific form that does tend to occur within families – though this version of the disease is more rare. Huntington’s disease, on the other hand, is clearly hereditary, and it’s a little known fact that this is a form of dementia. Other types of dementia that run in families include fronto-temporal dementias: as many as 50% of those cases seem to be hereditary.
While genetics has its influence, our environment and our lifestyle have perhaps an equally powerful role. Since families share similar ways of living, it can be difficult to sort out what happens due to genetics and what happens due to environment.
If you’re worried about you or someone you love developing dementia, rather than look at family history you may find more connections by considering the following:
- Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men are.
- Researchers have determined that diseases of the heart, blood, or arteries are linked with an increased chance of dementia. This includes heart attacks, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and especially strokes.
- Those who have a history of depression are more likely to develop dementia.
- Repeated or severe head injuries are also a risk factor.
If you have concerns that you or a loved one will inherit a form of dementia, talk to your doctor. They can provide guidance about how likely it is that your form of dementia is inherited, and can give you guidance about whether a step like genetic testing and counseling might be worth it.