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Having a parent with dementia could affect memory in midlife

23 February 2009
Appeared in BioNews 496

A study shows that people who have a parent with Alzheimer's disease or dementia may be more likely to have poor memory in middle age, if they also carry a gene called ApoEe4. The findings were presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 61st Annual Meeting in Seattle last week, and confirm the role of ApoEe4 gene in the heritability of Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers studied 715 people, with an average age of 59. Of these, 282 people had one or both parents with dementia, and 433 people had parents without dementia. The scientists tested verbal and visual memory skills in the participants, as well as the presence of the ApoEe4 gene, which is already known to be a risk factor for dementia.

They found that among people with the ApoEe4 gene, those who had parents with Alzheimer's or other dementia had two to three times the risk of having low verbal and visual memory performances than people who did not have parents with Alzheimer's. From this study it is unclear whether the participants would go on to develop dementia.

Dr Stephanie Debette, who led the study at Boston University, explained: 'The effect was largely limited to those who have the ApoEe4 gene, which supports the idea that the gene is probably at least partially responsible for the transmission of Alzheimer's disease risk between generations. However, all of these individuals were functioning normally, and only further testing can determine whether the poorer performance on memory testing in middle age would lead to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or other dementia later in life.'

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the UK's Alzheimer's Research Trust said that 'the role of genes in Alzheimer's disease is an important area for research. Studying genes associated with Alzheimer's will tell researchers about the biology of the disease, which could lead to new treatments being developed. At present, the cause of Alzheimer's is unknown, but it is likely that a mixture of environmental and genetic factors are involved. 700,000 people in the UK today have dementia and we desperately need to fund more research now to offer hope for the future'.

Alzheimer's disease may be passed on from parents due to faulty gene: researchers
The Daily Telegraph |  18 February 2009
Alzheimer's study finds parental link
The Boston Globe |  19 February 2009
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