My Alzheimer’s Prevention Efforts: the Why.

Picture of Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

As you know by now, my mom Tracey starting displaying obvious memory issues in her late 50s and was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018 at the age of 67 (by which time she was already having difficulty with language and couldn’t manage her own shopping or banking).

My mom Tracey, standing under the Eiffel Tower in the 1990s

Today she is alive, if not well, being cared for 24/7 by my ever-giving sister in-law Michelle in my brother’s home in Virginia. She still speaks and will occasionally even mention the name of a family member, but her language is often nonsensical, and most basic bodily functions are no longer within her control. She has siblings also affected, and her dad passed away from dementia in his 70s (along with many of his siblings being afflicted as well). So, as I find myself in middle age with an adorable 4 year old son, my efforts to achieve and maintain an ideal body weight are largely driven by an intense desire to minimize my own chance of developing dementia.

Several years ago I decided to test both my mom’s and my genome to see whether we had the APOE e4 (aka APOE4) gene by sending samples of our saliva to 23andMe. It turns out that we each have one copy of this Alzheimer’s risk gene, along with one copy of the “normal” APOE3 gene. About 25% of the population has a copy of APOE4, and about 2% of people have two copies of APOE4. Without taking into consideration any other lifestyle risk factor, having a single copy of APOE4 increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by about 2-fold, and having two copies increases your risk about 5-fold. Having the APOE4 allele also increases the risk that the dementia will begin earlier in life than in people who develop Alzheimer’s with two copies of the “normal” APOE3 gene.

Knowing that I carry the same single APOE4 allele as my mom was disheartening, but knowing my status really served to light a fire under my ass and serve as fuel toward healthier lifestyle changes. Currently, experts have determined that up to 40% of Alzheimer’s cases can be prevented with lifestyle changes, and that even if someone is still destined to develop Alzheimer’s, making these changes can significantly delay the onset of cognitive impairment. (And of course, gaining an extra 5 or 10 years could be just enough time for that major scientific breakthrough that cures Alzheimer’s to be discovered!).

If someone you know and love has been affected by Alzheimer’s and you realize that you, too, may be at risk, I encourage you to come along with me as we work toward achieving the healthiest brains we can. Preserving my mind is of the utmost importance to me now that I have a 4 year old son: I want to be around to see him grow up; I want to be a source of love and support, a soft cushion for him to fall on, for as long as he will have me. I want that for you, too. More details about my personal work up and experience in Dr. Richard Isaacson’s Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic in Manhattan, and the specific actions I am taking (and that you can take, too) to help decrease my risk are coming soon. Make sure to follow me on social so that you don’t miss any important tips!

xoxo Jen




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