ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — More than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, that number is expected to more than double! Researchers are constantly searching for answers as to what causes this mysterious disease. Now, they may be one step closer to identifying some risk factors. Martie salt explains.

Alzheimer’s disease is both devastating and deadly. In fact, it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the US. One of the biggest problems doctors face is that symptoms typically don’t appear until the disease has progressed.

Reisa Sperling, MD, Dir. Ctr. for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital explains, “We know now that the process of Alzheimer’s disease begins in the brain well more than a decade before people get symptoms.”

That’s why researchers are trying to better identify those at risk for Alzheimer’s. A recent study found people who develop infections such as herpes simplex virus type one or cytomegalovirus in mid and late life are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Other research found individuals who had viral encephalitis, which is essentially inflammation of the brain caused by a virus, were at least 20 times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than those who didn’t have the condition. 

Some of the latest research also suggests other possible risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include having a head injury, experiencing hearing loss, heart disease, untreated depression, and living in social isolation. Recognizing these risk factors could help doctors spot the disease earlier – which is key for a better outcome.

Doctor Sperling says, “If we can catch this, nip it in the bud before people have symptoms maybe that’s the way we really cure Alzheimer’s disease.”

Age is the single most important risk factor when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after you reach age 65. But about one in 20 people with the disease have early-onset and are younger than 65.

Contributors to this news report include: Julie Marks, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.