Is Dementia Hereditary?

Is dementia hereditary? According to the Alzheimer's Society, there are over one hundred types of dementia, but very few of them are hereditary. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which affects approximately half a million people in the UK and five million in the USA. Dementia affects one of the most vital areas of the body, the brain. Cognitive and intellectual functioning is controlled by the brain, and loss of these functions due to dementia will affect how an individual interprets, interacts with and responds to their physical and social environments. Dementia can have a profound effect on daily life and relationships.

Although, dementia is a progressive and ultimately terminal disease, it is possible to live with dementia for twenty years or more. The cause of dementia remains unclear, but it is thought to be the result of a variety of factors, including family history, age, environment lifestyle and overall general health. Some risk factors for dementia include Type 2 diabetes, head injuries, strokes and high cholesterol levels. Therefore, it is important to focus on healthy eating, exercising and reducing stress in order to prevent or delay the onset of dementia.

Overall, the greatest risk factor for dementia is age. The condition afflicts just over seven percent of those aged 65 or over, and just under 17 percent of people aged over eighty. However, dementia is not just the domain of older people. 17,000 people aged under 65 in the UK suffer with dementia, although this figure may be underestimated. There are several stages of dementia, ranging from the initial early stages where there is no obvious cognitive impairment, through to a very severe decline in cognitive ability.

The early signs of mild cognitive decline are lapses in memory, particularly in forgetting names, words and familiar places, or misplacing spectacles, keys and other items. However, these problems do not present during medical examination, nor are they apparent to family, friends or colleagues. As the syndrome progresses, the symptoms become increasingly noticeable, and deficiencies may be measured clinically. Obvious signs include a marked increase in memory loss, the inability to function at work or in social settings, and difficulty in reading and retaining information.

One of the major identifying stages of dementia is a significant change in personality. Sufferers of dementia may show signs of paranoia and distrust, even to those closest to them. Other indicators include the inability to recall very recent events, hallucinations, disrupted sleep patterns, and the need for help with day to day activities. So, is dementia hereditary? Research is ongoing to discover more about the various types of dementia, and the likelihood of any genetic links. As dementia is a degenerative condition, understanding how the degeneration happens can be useful in helping those with dementia anticipate and plan for change.