Few diseases are being looked at more closely than dementia. With an aging population, the rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are expected to spike. So it’s no surprise that there are many health breakthroughs surrounding this condition, which can eventually ruin your quality of life. A new study found that our own family tree could provide protection from the ravages of time.
When health news is about genetic links, it is usually about your higher risk of getting something because your father had it, or your grandmother. But the reverse, as we find out here, is also true. Protection can run in the family. And that is news worth cheering over.
According to a new study in “Neurology,” people without dementia who also have higher levels of inflammation tend to have relatives who are more likely to avoid the disease as well.
In older adults whose minds are working well, higher levels of “C-reactive protein” (which, in high amounts, suggests inflammation in the body) are associated with a stronger memory. Now the new study also found that the more C-reactive protein in a person, the lower the risk for dementia is in that person’s parents and siblings. Therein lay the genetic shield.
The study group comprised 277 men over age 75 who had no signs of dementia. Researchers measured levels of the protein in question, then investigated cases of dementia among more than 1,300 close family members. They found that 40 relatives in 37 separate families had developed dementia. A complementary study looked at 51 men over 85 without dementia, and they found nine of 205 relatives had dementia.
Those who had greater levels of C-reactive protein were more than 30% less likely to have family members with dementia. (The secondary group led to similar findings.)
What is curious overall about this, based on a swell of medical studies, is that C-reactive protein is generally considered a negative thing. It suggests inflammation in the body, which is one of the biggest causes of serious disease. It is tied to a host of conditions, leading off with heart disease. And in older adults who are just around the cusp of retirement age, the protein is related to poorer mental function.
But for very old people who are still healthy in the mind, high levels of C-reactive protein indicate that they are resistant to dementia. It’s like, they’ve had high levels for this long, so they are able to withstand it and remain healthy. Only in a case like this could this dangerous protein be considered a good thing.
Now the research shows that such protection against dementia and memory loss can be passed on to immediate relatives.