Both of my parents died of dementia related conditions. My father had the classic symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease and my mother died of a condition known as Dementia with Lewy Bodies. I also suspect that my maternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather's mother all died from dementia related conditions also. In addition, my wife's mother also died from what we assume to be Alzheimer's Disease. All three of our parents had these conditions at the same time and died within a relatively short time of each other in care facilities after long declines.
I worked closely with my father for the last ten years of his life. He and I were both attorneys and had been law partners for many years. The decline of our parents dramatically affected our family in many, mostly negative, ways. During all of this time, I was extremely active in genealogical research while I was still actively practicing law. I have been devoting full-time to genealogy since I retired from my law practice.
I have often reflected on the progression of the symptoms of Alzheimer's as experienced by my father. From time to time, I calculate his age when the symptoms first appeared and wonder if my own life will follow the same path. I am more acutely aware of this issue as I reach the same ages as my father did when those symptoms started to appear. In this regard, I have examined the death certificates for a number of my ancestors. For example, the stories told about my Great-grandmother seem to indicate she had a form of dementia. The cause of death recorded on her death certificate and signed by a doctor is "Brain Hemorrhage due to Arteriosclerosis due to Old Age." The duration of the brain hemorrhage was "1 week" and the duration of the Arteriosclerosis was 10 years. I suspect that the diagnosis of arteriosclerosis was really dementia.
The connection between the two conditions is far from settled. See the following:
Dolan, Hillary, Barbara Crain, Juan Troncoso, Susan M Resnick, Alan B Zonderman, and Richard J OBrien. 2010. “Atherosclerosis, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease in the BLSA Cohort.” Annals of Neurology 68 (2): 231–40. doi:10.1002/ana.22055. “PubMed Central Link.” 2016. Accessed March 28. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3030772/.
As I now go back through my genealogically acquired collection of death certificates, I find other references to arteriosclerosis among my direct line ancestors. Another example is my paternal grandmother's father who died of Lobar Pneumonia after 1 to 2 years of arteriosclerosis general.
At the same time my parents were suffering from their decline, I was working at a large law firm that was extremely involved in elder law issues. Although not directly involved in the estate planning and care issues of the elder law practice, I was directly involved in elder abuse and disability cases. Part of my practices consisted of determining the mental state of people who were in possible abusive situations. Usually two of us from the law firm would interview potential clients to determine if they were actually being abused or exhibiting some signs of dementia or sometimes both. Subsequently, I spent more than ten years intensely studying anything I could find about dementia and Alzheimer's Disease particularly.
Today, I find myself living in and associating with an extensive community of older people. Tragically, because of my extensive practical background in dementia related conditions, I frequently detect these symptoms among my present peer group. Now, I am beginning to investigate the connection between Alzheimer's and my interest in genealogy. I am particularly interested to see if what I can find in my genealogical research casts any light on this subject. Perhaps, I can find a qualified investigator who would like to collaborate on this particular subject?
There is a suspected strong link between family history, heredity and Alzheimer's. Here is a quote from the Alzheimer's Association website.
Another strong risk factor is family history. Those who have a parent, brother, sister or child with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one family member has the illness. When diseases tend to run in families, either heredity (genetics) or environmental factors, or both, may play a role.
Genetics (heredity)See the following:
Scientists know genes are involved in Alzheimer’s. There are two types of genes that can play a role in affecting whether a person develops a disease—risk genes and deterministic genes. Alzheimer's genes have been found in both categories.
“Alzheimer’s & Dementia Risk Factors | Alzheimer’s Association.” 2016. Accessed March 28. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_factors.asp?gclid=CjwKEAjwrOO3BRCX55-L9_WojHoSJAAPxcSPUOid6AZhWIPgBDhc80c7mgitdNJdhwPQfnSy9tqgxRoCdhHw_wcB.
However, I have also seen the following from the Alzheimer's Association that would lead me to believe that running out and getting a genealogically related DNA test has little to do with the issue of Alzheimer's.
Genetic testingI am not sure how helpful it is to know that you may have Alzheimer's risk factors. As I read the popular writing on the subject online, I find a lot of suggestions for activities that may help delay the onset of the disease, but many of these seem to be contradictory. I guess the main question I would ask is whether or not genealogy per se, can assist in understanding this condition. Perhaps I can use my blog to advance the thinking in this area?
Genetic tests are available for both APOE-e4 and the rare genes that directly cause Alzheimer’s. However, health professionals do not currently recommend routine genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease. Testing for APOE-e4 is sometimes included as a part of research studies.