11 Rare Causes of Alzheimer’s & Dementia As of 2016

New Research Into Alzheimer’s and Dementia

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experienced memory loss at least once or twice in your life. Think about it… when was the last time you lost your car keys? Or forgot why you walked into a room?

Don’r worry, some amount of forgetfulness is normal. But for about x million Americans, these seemingly innocent memory slips are actually early warning signs of Alzheimer’s.

The question everyone wants to know is why.

We may never know why for everyone, but scientists have identifies a number of things that make a person predisposed to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Keeping reading to learn 11 rare and recently discovered causes that may help you detect whether Alzheimer’s is affecting your loved one.

causes of alzheimer's & dementiaGenetic Causes for Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Most researchers agree that dementia is likely the result of multiple factors working together, rather than one overriding cause. However, research has proven that both age and genetics play a role.

1 – Single Gene Mutations (Early Onset)

Studies show a link between single-gene mutations on chromosomes 21, 14, and 1 and early onset Alzheimer’s.

Each of these mutations causes abnormal proteins, specifically the amyloid precursor protein (APP) and the abnormal presenilin proteins, to build up in the brain. This results in the creation of harmful forms of amyloid plaques, a hallmark of the disease.

2 – Apolipoprotein E (APOE) Gene (Late Onset)

Researches have found that individuals with certain apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene markers are at a greater risk for developing dementia.

There are four types of APOE alleles that create several different APOE variations. Each of us has up to four APOE alleles that we inherit from each of our parents.

Studies have found a strong link between the APOE ε4 gene and dementia, especially among individuals who have two or more APOE ε4 alleles. For this reason, the APOE ε4 has been names the “risk-factor gene.”

That being said, not everyone with the APOE ε4 allele will develop dementia. In fact, some people with an APOE ε4 allele never get the disease, and others who develop Alzheimer’s do not have any APOE ε4 alleles.

If you’re want to find out if you or a loved one, is at risk for Alzheimer’s, you may want to consider genetic testing. There are many different genetic tests available to diagnose Alzheimer’s and identify predisposition. You can learn more at Alzheimersforum.org.

Diseases Diagnosed Prior to Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Memory loss isn’t always the first warning sign that a person might develop Alzheimer’s. For many, dementia risk will diagnosed much earlier on–in the form of another autoimmune disease.

Here are some of the most common (and very rare) diseases associated with dementia.

3 – Niemann-Pick Disease Type C

Niemann-Pick disease Type C is a rare inherited disorder that has been linked to dementia. Although more common among school age children, Niemann-Pick Disease can present itself at any age.

People with this disorder are unable to process cholesterol and other fats, causing a build up in the cells. Overtime, the progressive clogging in the cells results in immobility, difficulty swallowing, memory loss, and dementia.

4 – HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorder (HAND)

If not treated, advanced HIV infections can also lead to neurocognitive disorders. Symptoms of HIV related dementia include memory loss, impaired thinking and reasoning.

In the past, the risk of acquiring dementia from HIV related illnesses was much higher (about 20-30% of people with advanced HIV infections developed dementia). In the last several, years, the use of antiviral drugs has lowered this statistic to around 2 percent.

5 – Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is an inherited disease causing abnormal movements and problems with coordination. Other symptoms include mood problems and cognitive impairment, which progressively worsen over time. The age of onset and the course of the disease varies for each person, and dementia can occur at any stage of the illness.

Symptoms of Huntington’s disease associated dementia include: difficulty concentrating, organizational problems, loss of short-term memory, and sometimes obsessive behavior. This type of dementia is very different from Alzheimer’s disease. Most notably because patients do not lose their ability to recognize people and places until much later stages of the illness.

6 – Multiple Sclerosis

Dementia can be caused by multiple sclerosis (MS) when certain parts of the brain are affected by MS lesions. Generally, each MS patient is affected differently over time.

Symptoms of this type of dementia include: difficulties with memory, concentration and problem solving. Sometimes these patients also suffer from emotional problems, including mood swings and personality changes.

Toxic Protein Build-up In The Brain Linked To Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Research shows that toxic protein buildup in the brain, specifically a protein called beta amyloid and tau, can cause Alzheimer’s. The big question is: what causes these toxic proteins to build up in the first place.

This process has been explained in several new studies, which have revealed that the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are far more complex than scientists previously thought. In fact, the predisposition to dementia goes beyond genetics, and unhealthy habits entirely.

7 – Anxiety Medicationcauses of alzheimer's & dementia

Certain anxiety medications have been linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The highest risk is associated with benzodiazepines, a class of drugs often used to treat anxiety disorders and insomnia. Popular benzodiazepines include lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin).

Many of the studies have been conducted to evaluate the short term safety (approximately three months) of these types of medications. The problem with these studies is that many physicians continue to prescribe these medications much longer than three months, sometimes for years, and even decades.

This is a problem, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, because these people are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The study analyzed 1,796 Canadians with Alzheimer’s disease and 7,184 healthy controls for six years. Their findings show that taking benzodiazepines, for longer than three months, caused up to a 51% increase in Alzheimer’s disease.

8 – Head Injuries

According to research done at the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain and Spine Injury Program, inflammation in the brain caused by brain sports-related concussions can occasionally become chronic. According to Brian Giunta, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of Southern Florida, this is where the risk of Alzheimer’s comes into play.

“Cells in your brain called microglia play an important role in inflammation. When the microglia are constantly in a proinflammatory state, they are less able to clear amyloid beta from the brain. Without microglia to clear the misfolded proteins, it can build up in the brain and kill neurons. It’s still not clear why the inflammatory process stays switched on in some people or how many cases of Alzheimer’s disease are potentially linked with traumatic brain injury”.

Although link between brain injuries and dementia isn’t clear, it’s still something to think about. Especially since there are over 300,000 sports-related concussions and brain injuries diagnosed every year.

9 – Long Term Sleep Deprivation

In recent year, sleep deprivation has hit near-epidemic levels. It’s only natural, as we try to manage careers, kids, relationships, hobbies, and more. For those of us who want to do it all, something has to go–and that something is most often our sleep. Unfortunately, not sleeping comes with bigger risks than falling asleep on your desk.

In fact, a recent study published in the Neurobiology of Aging, insufficient sleep can also increase our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Prevention.com recently interviewed Domenico Praticó, MD, a pharmacologist and immunologist at Temple University in Philadelphia about this topic. He recently conducted a study on mice, which found that “letting these mice only sleep for four hours a night increased the amount of tau in their brains. It also altered learning and memory, as well as how well neurons were able to communicate with each other. Chronic sleep deprivation, Praticó explains, stresses the brain and body (which is why you may be so tired), which speeds up the harmful processes leading to Alzheimer’s disease.”

According to Praticó, “Sleep problems are common in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but it wasn’t clear whether this was cause or effect.” In other words, “sleep deprivation is a form of chronic stress on the body. It’s also the time when the brain gets rid of bad things,” such as excess amyloid beta protein.

10 – Loneliness

Socializing and keeping in touch with friends seems to be more beneficial than we previously thought. It’s actually good medicine against the deadly… loneliness. That’s right. Several studies have discovered an apparent link between loneliness and the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. One of three year study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, found that lonely seniors were 1.63 times more likely to develop dementia. Experts still don’t know the exact cause of this relationship, but the implications are definitely clear. Socializing and staying connected is a good idea.

11 – Diabetes In The Brain

Some scientists have started referring to Alzheimer’s disease as Type 3 diabetes. Neuroscientist Suzanne de la Monte, MD, of Brown University is one of them. According to her research, “any organ can be affected by insulin resistance. You can have it in the liver- we call that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. If you get it in the kidney, we call it renal disease. If you get it in the brain, we call it Alzheimer’s.”

Over the past few years, her research has revealed that glucose creates a toxic environment in the brain. This can lead to harmful buildup of protein in the brain, and eventually cause neuronal death that is seen in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.


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Stellar Living is one of the leading providers of Alzheimer’s and Dementia care in the U.S.. Through our unique Rising Stars Program, we provide our memory care residents with a happy and fulfilled experience. We offer a wide range of activities, and use the Montessori method, which encourages residents to experience and do more. In addition, residents live within Memory Care Neighborhoods; living spaces specifically designed to support the cognitive challenges brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.