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Is Alzheimer's Disease Infectious?

by Carole Larkin, Alzheimer's & Dementia Expert
February 05, 2015

Question: Is Alzheimer's disease infectious?

Answer: The simple, straightforward answer is no, at least not in the normal sense that we think of a disease being infectious, like the flu or Ebola.

But if you expand the definition of infectious to mean could we inherit it from our ancestors, the answer is yes for one type, and maybe for other types.

There is one type of Alzheimer’s that is definitely “familial” and researchers have been studying it for some years now. There is one extended family in Antioquia, Colombia, South America. At 5,000 members, this is the world's largest family in which a gene that causes Alzheimer's has been identified. The family gets the disease early in life, in their 30’s and 40’s, and the disease progresses very fast. They die just a few years later.

For the rest of us, there are a few genes identified that give us a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The most well known one is called APOE-e4. If a person has two copies of this gene, they are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but it is not to be assumed that because a person has 2 copies of that gene that they will automatically will develop the disease. Scientists estimate that APOE-e4 is implicated in about 20 percent to 25 percent of Alzheimer's cases. Research continues on this gene and others.

Can a person undergo genetic testing to find out if they have this gene or any of the others suspected of causing Alzheimer’s? Well, yes, in certain areas of the country. It’s tremendously expensive, and may not be covered by insurance. Plus, all it shows a person is that they have a higher risk to develop the disease, not that they will develop the disease. It’s up to the individual to decide if they want to pay the money for an uncertain result. If a person wants to have the tests, they should start by asking their doctor where the tests are performed. Perhaps your doctor will find out for you.

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Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd, QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. Her company, ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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