Since you’re interested in caring for your brain, you’ve probably heard of APOE. It’s a unit of your DNA that gives your body instructions for making a protein called apolipoprotein E.
There are 3 versions of the APOE gene: ε2, ε3, and ε4. Carriers of the APOEε4 have an increased risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It’s believed APOEε4 increases the number of amyloid plaques in the brain that may lead to Alzheimer’s.
APOEε4 is inherited from one or both of your parents and can be determined by a blood test. If you carry the gene, it doesn’t mean you inherited Alzheimer’s. It simply means you inherited a higher risk for the disease.
But there’s good news, APOEε4 carriers can reduce their risk for dementia through a number of habit changes, including cognitive training. One study of almost 2000 people 70 years old and older took a look at how cognitive training impacted their risk of developing dementia. About a quarter of participants in this study were APOEe4 carriers. Researchers followed participants for 4 years and monitored their frequency of cognitive training. Playing games, engaging in craft activities, computer activities, and social activities were associated with decreased risk of dementia in people without the gene. Interestingly, only computer activities and social activities were associated with a reduced risk in carriers of APOEε4.
More research is needed to determine other types of cognitive training that can benefit carriers of the gene, but it’s promising to know that it’s possible to reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s even if you carry APOEε4. Increasing cognitive reserve is believed to reduce risk by up to 50% for carriers of APOEε4, so while computer games and social activities are recommended, keep doing all the other mentally challenging and engaging activities you enjoy as well.