Understanding Alzheimer’s Risk Factors And Promoting Brain Health

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Alzheimer’s disease can be defined as a degenerative brain disorder involving a progressive decline in memory and cognitive function. This challenging illness may disrupt not only the lives of those who live with it, but also those of their family members and caregivers. The often-isolating nature of Alzheimer’s frequently transforms familiar faces into strangers and simple tasks into significant challenges. However, there may be notable value in understanding its genetic and environmental risk factors. Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, recognizing the risk factors is often the first step in a comprehensive approach to maintaining brain health and mitigating the disease’s effects. By identifying and managing these factors, one can potentially delay the onset of the disease or slow its progression. Along with medical professionals, a licensed therapist can help individuals through this process in person or online.

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Overview of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease usually presents an array of symptoms that progressively impair cognitive function and personality. Early signs may include memory loss and confusion, often first observed as difficulty remembering recent events or information. As the disease progresses, tasks once considered routine may become difficult, contributing to frustration and changes in behavior or personality.

The disease’s evolution can be classified into stages, starting from a pre-clinical phase where Alzheimer’s risk factors induce brain changes without noticeable symptoms. Mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s usually follows and can be characterized by more evident memory lapses. The moderate or middle stage typically marks a significant cognitive decline in which individuals usually require more assistance for day-to-day tasks. Last, severe or late-stage Alzheimer’s generally exhibits a substantial loss of cognitive and physical abilities. 

Around 50 million people worldwide live with dementia (or memory loss) that is primarily caused by Alzheimer’s. This number is expected to double every few decades without advancements in treatment. As a result, the best way to manage Alzheimer’s may be to prevent it as best as possible. Understanding what may impact your chances of experiencing symptoms can be a crucial part of reducing the risk of dementia.

Genetic and hereditary risk factors

Experts usually agree that there can be a strong genetic component to Alzheimer’s. Certain genes passed down through generations can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, which means a family history of the disease may amplify an individual’s susceptibility to it. The likelihood can further escalate if a parent or sibling has been diagnosed with the condition.

While genetics can significantly influence the risk of developing dementia, they are usually not the only factor that can do so. Other conditions, like heart disease and high blood pressure, can also boost a person’s risk level. Understanding genetic predisposition alongside other health conditions may become essential in identifying and managing the risk of dementia.

Non-genetic risk factors

While genetics may significantly impact the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, non-genetic factors can also hold substantial sway. The first among these tends to be age, the greatest known risk factor. The majority (73%) of those with Alzheimer’s disease are usually at least 75 years old. 

Cardiovascular health can also contribute greatly to Alzheimer’s risk. Conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol can impede blood flow, deprive brain cells of essential nutrients, and contribute to cognitive decline. 

Another important non-genetic factor may be a history of head injuries, particularly traumatic brain injuries. Those incidents can cause lasting damage to the brain and increase the chances for an individual to develop Alzheimer’s disease. 

Finally, lifestyle choices may affect an individual’s Alzheimer’s risk. Habits like smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet, and heavy alcohol use can be classified as other risk factors that can lead to both cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle for brain health.


Potentially modifiable risk factors

In the face of Alzheimer’s disease, certain environmental factors can be modified to reduce the risk of developing symptoms. Regular physical exercise can be a primary strategy because it generally promotes brain health by improving blood flow and cardiovascular health.

Diet is another adjustable factor that can significantly influence brain health. Adherence to a healthy diet abundant in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains is usually linked to a lower risk of dementia. 

Good sleep hygiene can be a crucial but often overlooked aspect of preventing Alzheimer’s. Sleep disorders or poor sleep hygiene can exacerbate the risk, emphasizing the importance of adequate and quality sleep for brain health. 

Additionally, mental stimulation through activities like reading, puzzles, and continuous learning may be instrumental in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. 

The role of regular health checks

Regular health checks may play a crucial role in the timely identification and management of Alzheimer’s risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. By monitoring these conditions, early intervention can be undertaken, significantly reducing the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Doctors often serve as vital guides throughout this journey. They can provide advice on lifestyle changes that promote brain health, such as adopting a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking, and managing sleep disorders. In addition, they can recommend treatments to control other health conditions that might escalate Alzheimer’s risk. 

Preventing and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s

A multi-pronged approach may be best for preventing and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Certain medications prescribed by healthcare professionals can help manage the symptoms and slow the disease’s progression. While they may not provide a cure, they can significantly improve the quality of life and extend periods of independence. 

Non-medication approaches may also help individuals manage symptoms, whether with or without the additional support of medications. Examples can include cognitive stimulation therapy, mentally challenging activities, and music therapy, known for its calming effect and ability to stimulate memories. 

Creating a supportive environment can likewise be key. This could mean maintaining routines to provide a sense of stability, using memory aids like calendars and notes, and ensuring a safe and comfortable living space. 

When symptoms become severe or impact quality of life significantly, it may be necessary to see a therapist. They can provide coping strategies, address emotional needs, and guide clients and their families through the challenging journey of Alzheimer’s disease.

Want to learn about Alzheimer’s risk factors and brain health?

Benefits of online therapy

Online therapy can be a beneficial tool for Alzheimer’s disease management. As the disease can often make traveling a challenge due to confusion and disorientation, the accessibility of online therapy may reduce potential stress. Additionally, online therapy can allow for flexible scheduling, accommodating the varying energy and concentration levels that can come with the disease. 

Effectiveness of online therapy

One study analyzed and discussed how telemedicine could improve the quality of healthcare for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. It found that telehealth could provide high-quality, effective care for patients and their families despite its digital format. The study also noted that online interventions could increase opportunities for earlier intervention and lessen visits made to hospitals or emergency rooms. 


Understanding Alzheimer’s disease, its risk factors, and strategies to promote brain health can be an integral part of managing this complex illness. Both medication and non-medication therapies, along with a supportive environment, can play pivotal roles in slowing disease progression and maintaining quality of life. Throughout this process, online therapy often stands out as an effective tool in mental health support. By overcoming potential logistical challenges posed by Alzheimer’s, online therapy can ensure mental health support remains available to those affected, reinforcing their capability to navigate the disease and bolstering their mental resilience.
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