Alzheimer’s Disease: Risk Factors & Causes

People who are 65 years of age and older are at the highest risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but it may also affect some people as early as their 30s. It is believed that a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s is influenced by many factors. Some of these factors, such as age and heredity, cannot be controlled.

Age, Genetics, and Family History

The greatest risk factors for Alzheimer’s are:  

  • Older age—the incidence of Alzheimer’s increases from 5% for people aged 65 to 74 years to 33.2% for people aged 85 years and older
  • Genetics—certain genes may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s
  • Family history—people who have one or more parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s disease are at higher risk

Estimated Percentage of People with Alzheimer's Dementia in the U.S.

Who Is at Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease?

Certain groups of people are at higher risk of Alzheimer’s:

  • For example, 2 out of 3 people with Alzheimer’s are women

In addition, for people aged 65 years and older, the risk of Alzheimer's or related dementia is higher within Black American and Hispanic/Latino groups as compared to Non-Hispanic Whites. It is estimated that*:

  • 13.8% are Black American
  • 12.2% are Hispanic/Latino
  • 10.3% are Non-Hispanic Whites

*Based on a study from 2014.

Health and Lifestyle Factors

Other health factors can also increase the risk of memory or thinking problems. These factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of sleep, and smoking. Results from a large clinical trial show that steps taken to lower blood pressure may decrease the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, studies have shown that:

  • Regular exercise may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s for people who are at risk
  • People with an overall healthy diet have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia
  • For people with MCI, routine brain exercises my improve memory in the short term

Myth vs Fact

Learn to separate fact from fiction when it comes to brain health and Alzheimer’s.