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Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, the more they learn about AD, the more they become aware of the important function genes play in the development of this devastating disease. ” —National Institute on Aging, “Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Fact Sheet,” August 2004. gov. The NIH supports and conducts research on aging processes, age-related diseases, and special problems and needs of the elderly. “ Only after you die and they pop open your head and inspect your deceased brain can they say for sure, sort of, if you had it.

It is believed to be caused by a variety of different factors working together. Beta-amyloid: excessive amounts lead to plaques Abnormalities in tau protein may contribute to tangles Brain inflammation Genetics (mutated genes) Coexisting ailments: Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol Unhealthy lifestyle: Smoking; excessive use of alcohol; lack of exercise, social stimulation, and mentally challenging activities Source: National Institute on Aging, “Alzheimer's Disease: Unraveling the Mystery,” December 2003.

Many people with early-onset Alzheimer’s have a parent or grandparent who also developed Alzheimer’s at a younger age. A significant proportion of early-onset Alzheimer’s is linked to three genes. ” —Glenn Smith, “Early Onset Alzheimer’s: When Symptoms Begin Before 65,” Mayo Clinic, March 7, 2007. com. Smith is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist who specializes in Alzheimer’s disease. “ It’s reasonable to suppose that anything that is bad for your heart is bad for your brain, so it is no great surprise that secondhand smoke could be responsible for development of carotid artery disease and dementias of all kinds.

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