Why Some People Suffer Earlier Memory Loss

Having both cardiovascular risks and Alzheimer's gene speed memory loss

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Genetics play a part as does the condition of your heart. If you carry a certain gene and have risks for heart disease, you may experience memory loss at an earlier age.

A 17-year Mayo Clinic-led study finds that people who carry a gene associated with Alzheimer's disease and have cardiovascular risks tend to experience age-related memory decline 20 to 25 years sooner than people who carry the gene without cardiovascular risk.

"Genes plus heart disease risks may lead to earlier memory loss."

Previous results from the same study has shown having even one copy of one of the genes associated with Alzheimer's (APOE e4) speeds up memory decline beginning in the mid to late 50's. For people who have two copies of the gene, the effect is more pronounced.

The latest research examined the influence of other common medical problems that cause cardiovascular disease such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol in combination with APOE e4.

"We found that the small sub group, about two percent of the population, who has the double dose of the gene and have at least one of those factors [risks for cardiovascular disease], further accelerated the risk of memory decline," explained lead investigator, Richard Caselli, M.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic.

"We don't believe that everyone needs to go out and get genetic testing for Alzheimer's disease," Caselli added, "but we do want to emphasize what our cardiology colleagues have been telling us for years that treatment of hypertension, diabetes, smoking cessation and high cholesterol are all very important – this is one more reason to consider that," he said.

The Study

  • This was longitudinal aging study to examine changes in cognitive skills with aging and the influence of increased risks for Alzheimer's disease
  • Begun in 1994
  • Looked at the gene most commonly associated with late-onset Alzheimer's, called apolipoprotein E (APOE)
  • This gene has three common forms: APOE e2 (appears to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's); APOE e3 (doesn't seem to affect the risk of Alzheimer's); APOE e4 (appears to increase the risk of Alzheimer's)
  • About one in four people have one copy of the APOE e4 gene, inherited from one parent
  • Two percent have two copies, which were inherited from both parents.
  • Someone with two APOE e4 genes, has higher risk of Alzheimer's
  • Genes along with cardiovascular risk factors increase risk even more
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 29, 2011
Last Updated:
May 2, 2011