If your mother has Alzheimer's, you are more likely to develop the disease than if your father has Alzheimer's, according to a study published today in the journal Neurology.
The study adds to a growing body of evidence that a tendency for the disease appears to be passed down through the mother's genes. Previous studies have found that people who have a close relative — mother, father, brother, sister — with the disease are four to 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's compared with those who have no direct family history.
Experts say the research may one day lead to gene manipulation that could prevent the disease. For now, though, it should encourage those with a family history of Alzheimer's to eat healthy foods and exercise, two strategies linked to a lower risk of the disease.
For this study, researchers at the University of Kansas followed 53 healthy men and women age 60 and over for two years. Eleven of them had a mother with Alzheimer's disease, 10 had a father with the disease and 32 had no family history. The groups were given brain scans and memory tests throughout the study.
The researchers found that people with a mother who had Alzheimer's disease had twice as much brain shrinkage as those who had a father — or no parent — with the disease. Men and women who had a mother with Alzheimer's had about one and a half times the shrinkage as those with a father with the disease. Brain shrinkage is one of the key early signs of the disease. Robyn Honea, lead author of the study and assistant professor of neurology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, says none of the subjects developed the disease during the study.
Today, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, and yet there is no proven treatment or cure.