How heritable is Alzheimer's disease late in life? Findings from Swedish twins

Ann Neurol. 2004 Feb;55(2):180-5. doi: 10.1002/ana.10999.


Although genetic effects are known to be important for early onset Alzheimer's disease, little is known about the importance of genetic effects for late-onset disease. Furthermore, previous studies are based on prevalent cases. Our purpose was to characterize the relative importance of genetic and environmental factors for incident Alzheimer's disease late in life, and to test for differences in the importance of genetic effects at different ages. A cohort of 662 pairs of Swedish twins 52 to 98 years of age who were without symptoms of dementia was followed up for an average of 5 years. Incident dementia cases were detected through follow-up at 2 to 3-year intervals using either cognitive testing or telephone screening followed by dementia workups. A physician, psychologist, and nurse gave consensus diagnoses. During the follow-up period, 5.8% of the sample was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Average age of onset was 83.9 years (standard deviation, 6.3). Of the 26 monozygotic pairs in which at least one twin developed Alzheimer's disease, 5 were concordant (probandwise concordance, 32.2%). The concordance rate for dizygotic pairs was 8.7% (2 of 44 pairs). Structural model fitting indicated that 48% of the variation in liability to Alzheimer's disease could be attributed to genetic variation. Estimates did not differ significantly between twins younger than age 80 years and those older than age 80 years at baseline. Although these genetic estimates for incident disease are lower than those for prevalent disease, the importance of genetic factors for liability to Alzheimer's disease is considerable even late in life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics*
  • Environment
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Sweden
  • Twins, Dizygotic
  • Twins, Monozygotic