In addition to having a close family member such as a mother, father or sibling with early-onset Alzheimer's, having a major depressive episode as an adult also appears associated with going on to develop Alzheimer's, Kennedy said.
There are no medications that can slow or reverse the underlying biological processes that lead to damage in the brain. But like older people, younger people can benefit from certain drugs that boost levels of a neurotransmitter in the brain that is important for forming memories, Arvanitakis said.
High blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, heart rhythm abnormalities and high cholesterol can reduce blood flow to the brain and lead to "vascular dementia," another form of progressive decline in memory and thinking skills, Kennedy said. Research has shown that many people with Alzheimer's also have vascular changes in the brain.
To combat that, "it makes good sense to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle," he said.
Experts have praised Summitt for sharing her struggle with the public.
"When you're a very public figure and you share something so personal like your own illness, it brings attention to it, and bringing attention to this devastating illness might benefit others," Arvanitakis said. "It could mean more research will be done on it. It will be recognized earlier and people could have access to treatment earlier."
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more on early onset Alzheimer's.
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