Unravelling the Risk Factors in Alzheimer’s Disease

Unravelling the Risk Factors in Alzheimer’s Disease

World Alzheimer’s Month occurs in September – and is a month when people around the world unite to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain and leads to cognitive decline and memory loss[1]. The number of people living with dementia will likely triple by the year 2050!

This year, the World Alzheimer Report theme “Never too early, never too late” encourages individuals to reduce their dementia risk, regardless of their age. Addressing individual risk factors for dementia works to decrease risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and/or delay the onset of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is multifactorial – in that there are many factors that increase the likelihood of developing the disease. Some risk factors cannot be changed, and some can be changed. Let’s look at the risk factors for developing Alzheimers disease.

“Never too early, never too late”

World Alzheimer’s Report

Risk Factors That Cannot Be Changed


The most significant risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is age. According to Statistics Canada, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in people aged 65 and older is approximately 20%[2]. As the population continues to age, it is estimated that the number of Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias will increase from the current estimate of 747,000 to 1.4 million by 2040[3].


Family history and genetics can also increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A study conducted at the University of Toronto found that individuals with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with Alzheimer’s disease were two to three times more likely to develop the disease themselves[4]. However, most cases of Alzheimer’s disease occur sporadically, without any identified genetic mutation.

Risk Factors That Can Be Changed

Lifestyle factors

Several lifestyle factors have been identified that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. These include:

  • Smoking: According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, smoking can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 45%[5].
  • Physical inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50%[6].
  • Poor diet: A diet high in fat and sugar has been linked to cognitive decline and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease[7].
  • Head injuries: Suffering a serious head injury can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 60%[8].

Chronic conditions

Several chronic conditions have also been linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. These include:

  • Diabetes: Individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease[9].
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure in middle age has been linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life[10].
  • Hypercholesterolemia: High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol have been linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease[11].

The Last Word

It is clear that there is no one way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But, people can equip themselves with knowledge of the key risk factors and make lifestyle changes that may help reduce the risk or delay the onset of the disease. Remember this saying, “Never too early, never too late” and encourage others to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of disease. Finally, on September 21, watch for the World Alzheimer Report for 2023.


  1. https://www.alzheimer.ca/en/Home/About-dementia/What-is-dementia/Alzheimer-s-disease
  2. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2014001/article/14028-eng.htm
  3. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/dementia-strategy-annual-report-parliament-2022.html
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4193876/
  5. https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/how-can-i-reduce-risk-dementia/risk-factors-dementia
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4376900/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4407837/
  8. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/head-injury-and-dementia
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5840457/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7425512/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5593551/

2 Responses

  1. That’s an incredible amount of people with Alzheimer’s coming up. My question is who will be looking after these people to help them be safe, and have some quality of life? This truly is scary. Reading this article, I recognize many people with all the lifestyle factors and conditions. But, it’s never too late!!!
    How much will MAID be intertwined with decisions in the future? Will we have gentle, patient, responsible people to work and volunteer with this group of beautiful people??!!

    1. You are right. The increased number of people declining with Alzheimer’s disease and other life-limiting illnesses in the coming years is astounding. Which is why all healthcare providers need to have basic skills in palliative care and know how to integrate a palliative approach. Because everyone will be needed on the care team providing care for people declining and dying with Alzheimer’s and other life-limiting illnesses.

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Courtney Murrell is a PSW who works in hospice palliative care.

When she is not at work, she is spending time with her family, going on hikes or writing. Courtney is a lifelong learner and loves to share her passion for writing as a wellness practice.

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