There are a few very rare cases where Alzheimer's disease does run in families. In these cases there is a direct link between an inherited mutation in one gene and the onset of the disease. These tend to be cases of 'early onset' Alzheimer's disease, which affects those under the age of 65. In these cases, the probability that close family members (brothers, sisters and children) will develop Alzheimer's disease is one in two.
Most cases of Alzheimer's disease are not of the type that is passed on directly in this way. If a family member has a normal form of Alzheimer's disease, the risk to close relatives is around three times higher than the risk for a person of a similar age who has no family history of the disease. It is thought that in these cases a person's genes may contribute to the development of the disease but do not cause it directly.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease or for most other causes of dementia. Nor can a cure be expected in the foreseeable future. Researchers are still at the stage of developing drugs that will slow down the progression of the disease, at least in some cases. They still do not know how to prevent the disease from occurring, how to stop its progression, or how to reverse its effects. It is hoped that more research into the causes of Alzheimer's disease will eventually make a cure possible.
Although there are no drugs that can cure Alzheimer's disease, there are a number of drug treatments that can help some people with Alzheimer's disease.
The currently available treatments can slow down the progression of the disease in some cases for periods between 6 and 18 months. The main class of such compounds is the cholinesterase inhibitors.
Other kinds of drugs are sometimes useful for controlling some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, such as sleeplessness and agitation. In general, however, the use of drugs such as sleeping pills or tranquillisers should be kept to a minimum if someone has Alzheimer's disease, as they can cause increased confusion.
Not enough is known about the causes of Alzheimer's disease for any specific preventative measures to be recommended.
Although Alzheimer's disease is more common with increasing age, the trigger for the characteristic changes that occur in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer's disease is not known. Even though these brain changes are associated with ageing, these are not a normal part of the ageing process.
Genes are thought to play a part in the development of most cases of Alzheimer's disease. In rare cases, abnormal genes actually cause the disease. Much more commonly, genes are believed only to contribute to a person's susceptibility to the disease. It seems that, at least in some cases, factors in the environment may be necessary to trigger the illness.
Although there are no specific preventative measures to recommend, what can be recommended is a healthy lifestyle. There is increasing research evidence to suggest that having a healthy lifestyle may help to reduce an individual's risk.
It is important to remember that your father's aggression is not directly aimed at you but is part of his illness. It is common for people who have Alzheimer's disease to pass through a phase of being angry and sometimes aggressive.
Although this phase will pass, it may help you in the meantime to consider some of the things that may be triggering your father's anger. For example, he may not like being forced to accept help to do things that he used to do on his own, such as washing. Or perhaps he feels frustrated simply because he is unable to do certain things. Another possibility is that your father is bewildered and frightened because he no longer understands what is going on around him. It is also possible that he is just bored or has an excess of energy. Sometimes hunger, the need to pass urine or constipation can lead to disruptive behaviour. If the angry outbursts have only started recently, they may be due to an infection or pain. Once you have been able to identify some of the things that tend to make your father angry, you may be able to reduce the number of angry outbursts.
Contact the Alzheimer association in your country for more advice on how to cope with challenging behaviour.
You are not alone. Many people and organisations, both professional and voluntary, can help. Do not be afraid to ask.
Alzheimer associations offer help and support to people with dementia and their carers. We have a list of Alzheimer associations around the world and we have contacts in other countries. Contact the Alzheimer association in your country. Many associations have telephone helplines, as well as branches or chapters throughout the country. Local groups will know about services in your area. Alzheimer associations will also be able to put you in touch with other caregivers who will understand your worries and problems and will be able to help you.
The world's population is ageing. Currently there are an estimated 30 million people worldwide with dementia. Two thirds of them live in developing countries. This figure is set to increase to more than 100 million people by 2050. Much of this increase will be in rapidly developing and heavily populated regions such as China, India and Latin America.
Dementia primarily affects older people. Up to the age of 65, dementia develops in only about 1 person in 1000. The chance of having the condition rises sharply with age to 1 person in 20 over the age of 65. Over the age of 80, this figure increases to 1 person in 5.