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Surprising Science

What Do We Know About Alzheimer’s?

Margaret Gatz, a psychologist at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, explains what 25 years of research have taught her about reducing the risk of dementia. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Psychologist at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Margaret Gatz has studied Alzheimer’s disease for more than 25 years. She is optimistic about the current state of medical technology: “We now have such tools as neuroimaging and genome-wide scans that hunt for genes related to risk, as well as big samples of people who’ve been followed over time. So we’re at an exciting place—we really have the potential to make some important findings.” Gatz has concentrated on the health of 14,000 Swedish twins since 1985. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Alzheimer’s disease remains mainly influenced by genetics. Gatz says that 70 percent of risk for Alzheimer’s disease across a population is due to heredity. “In each individual, there’s some combination of genes and environment. But on average, genes have a greater influence than environment in explaining the disease,” she says. These facts contrasts popular solutions like lifestyle changes or doing logic puzzles to prevent or delay the onset of dementia. Gatz says that getting physical exercise and eating a balanced diet is the best protective measure. 


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