Genetics and Dementia: Understanding Family History

Posted By on August 15, 2023

Did you know that 25% of people over the age of 55 have a family history of dementia? For many, the link between genetics and dementia is due to genetic complexes within family history, where variations can interact to increase a person’s risk of being diagnosed with dementia. 

At HarborChase Senior Living, our memory care communities are dedicated to providing exceptional, compassionate care to those living with dementia. This includes providing the right resources for individuals and families to understand how dementia progresses and how a person might be at an increased risk for developing dementia. 

If you’re curious about the link between genetics and dementia and how your family history might contribute, we’re shedding some light on this topic to help you and your family prepare for the future.

Connection Between Genetics and Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term that describes the various symptoms that can cause a decline in a person’s cognitive functions, like memory, social and problem-solving skills, emotions, personality, and behavior. 

Having a close relative with a form of dementia isn’t necessarily evidence of a direct genetic link; those who are influenced by risk factor genes are at a slightly higher risk than the rest of the general population. 

However, to take a deeper look into how genetics can come into play in the development of dementia, it’s essential to have a general understanding of genes and how they can be passed down. 

Understanding Genes

When we inherit genetic material from our parents, it’s packaged into chromosomes; each person has 22 pairs of chromosomes, with men having two X chromosomes and women having an X and Y chromosome. These chromosomes contain thousands of genes that contain information for making a person. Think of them like blueprints, which determine traits like hair color, height, and eye color.

However, these genes occasionally contain mutations, which can be potentially harmful. Risk factor genes may not lead directly to a person developing a particular illness but can make the plausibility of development a bit more likely to occur. 

How Do Genes Influence Dementia?

The short answer? They don’t! More often than not, dementia is caused by a complex disease in which genes are only one factor; when this does happen, genes are not directly causing the development of dementia.

In some cases, dementia is caused by a single-gene disease that can be inherited from parent to child. This typically happens in cases of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), one of the four most common types of dementia. Some people with FTD have a family history of dementia, and the condition can be inherited. In fact, about 1 in 10 cases of FTD are thought to be caused by a gene passed down in families. 

So what are the main factors that cause dementia? If a person is likely to develop a form of dementia, it’s caused by a mix of lifestyle factors like age, medical history, and lifestyle. 

How Can I Find My Family Health History?

If you’re searching for a complete image of your family’s health history, talk openly with relatives about any health concerns or conditions they or older relatives have had.

While genetic testing is available, “Genetic tests for dementia risk variants are not recommended. This is because knowing whether someone has genetic risk variants does not mean knowing for certain whether they will develop dementia. A person who has risk variants may have a higher risk of developing dementia, but even someone at a higher risk may never develop the condition (”

Memory care communities are designed for individuals living with dementia and provide a personalized experience through stimulating activities and thoughtfully designed programs that promote cognitive function. At HarborChase, our associates make a difference every day in the lives of residents and family members by delivering the meaningful care and nurturing environment they deserve. Our compassionate approach in our memory care communities makes all the difference. 

By understanding how genetics and dementia are linked, you can learn more about your family’s health history and determine whether or not you or a loved one are facing an increased risk of developing dementia.  

We invite you to find a HarborChase memory care community near you today.