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Is there a genetic risk for dementia?

If you or a relative has dementia you might be worried about the impact this could have on other members of your family. Find out all the latest information about whether dementia can be inherited

In a nutshell

Dementia can be inherited, but it usually isn’t. Most people who get dementia don’t have a family history of it at all. Plus, there’s a big difference between inheriting a gene which may slightly increase your chance of getting dementia (which can happen), and inheriting a gene which will definitely cause dementia (which very rarely happens).


Three facts worth knowing

1. Alzheimer’s usually isn’t inherited but an extremely rare form of young-onset Alzheimer’s called familial Alzheimer’s disease can be passed on from one generation to the next. This accounts for only one per cent of Alzheimer’s cases.

2. Dementia caused by Huntington’s disease also involves a specific gene which is passed on through families.

3. Around 20–50 per cent of people with frontotemporal dementia (sometimes called Pick’s disease) have inherited it from a close family member.


Here’s the science

Genes are involved in some forms of dementia – particularly the rarer types – and research in this area is growing all the time. For example, scientists now know that the three genes causing the young-onset inherited form of Alzheimer’s are called APP, PS1 and PS2 and it’s possible to identify them through genetic testing.

Could this be you (or someone you know)?

Try not to worry if someone in your family has had dementia, as this doesn’t mean you will definitely inherit dementia. For example, if your loved one was 80 years old when they developed it, there may not be a family connection since advancing age is usually one of the greatest known risk factors. Even if there is a family link of some sort, it’s far more likely that you have inherited a ‘risk gene’ rather than one which will definitely cause dementia, and there are plenty of simple ways you can reduce your risk of developing the condition.