This Facial Feature Could Hint At Your Alzheimer's Risk

You may have heard talk of Alzheimer's with respect to older generations. Maybe you've even had a grandparent or great-grandparent diagnosed with the disease. If so, you know all too well that Alzheimer's is a form of progressive dementia that starts with minor memory loss leading to an inability to respond to one's environment (via the CDC). The disease can be devastating for both the patient and the patient's family, especially as he or she tends to lose autonomy. Over the course of years, the patient may lose his or her ability to carry out daily tasks, a devastating circumstance for anyone. While it's true that Alzheimer's disease risk typically increases as we age, mostly affecting individuals over the age of 65, it's also possible to discover signs of the disease at younger ages. Unfortunately, because there's currently no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, early detection and intervention is one of our best defenses in helping to manage and slow progression of the disease.

Alzheimer's progression

Surprisingly, changes to the brain can happen years before signs of the disease become apparent. Early-stage Alzheimer's may emulate some of the pesky, normal signs of the aging process, like forgetting names or misplacing items. Increasing levels of memory loss, general confusion, wandering, and getting lost may be indicative of more moderate forms of Alzheimer's. During the late stages, a person may need round-the-clock care. If you've seen family members directly impacted by the disease, you may feel particularly scared of developing the disease yourself. According to the Alzheimer's Association, while family history is not necessary in order to develop Alzheimer's, research shows a strong link in first-family relatives. It's not very common to develop Alzheimer's at a young age, but it's still possible. This type of Alzheimer's is classified as the young-onset type, with signs and symptoms appearing between ages 30 to 60 years old. This type of Alzheimer's disease is strongly linked to family genetics (via Mayo Clinic).

Another surprising risk factor

Even if Alzheimer's doesn't run in your family, it's important to keep in mind rates are expected to double over the next 40 years (via Alzheimer's Association). Therefore, it's helpful for those under the age of 65 to know common disease indicators and signs too. Most of us associate poor memory with Alzheimer's disease, but there are other clues we may want to consider as well. Interestingly, one study found that the way our pupils dilate may be an indicator for Alzheimer's risk in the middle-aged population. According to a study published in the Neurobiology of Aging journal, adults performing cognitive tasks with mild cognitive impairment have greater pupil dilation than those performing the same cognitive tasks with normal cognitive function. Detecting such pupil dilation, especially in high-risk populations, could lead to early identification of the disease and improved patient outcomes. Of course, it would be hard to detect pupil dilation on our own, but if we suspect we may be at risk, we could enlist the help of a specialist to perform the necessary testing.

Seeking medical attention

While geriatricians are common providers for Alzheimer's disease, they typically only specialize in treating the elderly. For adults who don't fall into this category, it may be helpful to seek medical attention from a neurologist. Neurologists are doctors who specialize in brain and nervous system diseases, including Alzheimer's and other common neurological disorders (via Healthgrades). For those who fall into a high-risk category due to family history, it may be helpful to seek a genetic counselor to help identify genetic risk factors, as researchers have been able to identify several genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease. It's important to remember that while genes increase our risk of developing a certain disease, they don't guarantee it. The sooner you know your risk, the more empowered you'll be to detect and monitor the disease early. While there's currently no known cure for Alzheimer's, there are effective treatment options if the disease is detected early (via Alzheimer's Association).