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Can a Blood Test Assess Your Alzheimer’s Risk?

June 07, 2024

A simple blood test might be the first step in knowing if you’ll eventually get Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is a big step forward in assessing and defining the risk of developing AD for some people,” says Mark J. Alberts, MD, co-physician-in-chief of the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute. “The test is redefining the perspective we’re taking on Alzheimer’s.

“It’s a big deal.”

Here’s what you need to know.

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The blood test looks for a certain genetic combination.

Your primary care provider can order a blood test to determine the makeup of your APOE4 gene, which contains one chromosome from your father and another from your mother.

The research, shared in an early publication of a study funded by the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging, found that certain chromosome combinations indicate increased risk of Alzheimer’s. One combination – ApoE4/4 – is the most serious risk.

“If you have a 4/4 genotype, brain imaging studies as well as other biologic markers and cognitive testing predict a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s for some people,” Dr. Alberts says.

> Related: Alzheimer’s Disease Can Cause These 7 Communication Challenges

Other factors can also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.

In addition to your genes, other factors can also impact the risk of Alzheimer’s. These include:

  • Risk factors for stroke
  • Diet
  • Environment
  • Smoking
  • Mental and physical activity levels
  • Family history of dementia
  • Medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes
  • History of head trauma

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How can knowing my Alzheimer’s risk help?

While there is still no way to prevent the onset and advancement of Alzheimer’s disease at this point, it’s helpful to be able to plan accordingly.

Knowing your genetic make-up can also help identify the most effective treatment, says Dr. Alberts.

“We do know that having a 4/4 genotype also increases the risk patients will experience side effects like swelling and bleeding in the brain when treated with anti-amyloid antibodies,” he says, referring to the plaque that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

This is just the beginning of Alzheimer’s detection and treatment, says Dr. Alberts.

“Hopefully, this realization will spur more research into prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Alberts says.