CHICAGO — One parent with Alzheimer's disease is tough enough, but imagine the memory-robbing illness striking both parents — and knowing chances are high you'll get it, too. A study of more than 100 families for the first time gauges the size of that risk.
"I'm scared," said Jackie Lustig, 52, of Sudbury, Mass., whose father died of complications from Alzheimer's and whose mother is living it. "I'm hoping the pharmaceutical companies come up with something better than there is now. It's not a nice way to go."
The study, appearing in March's Archives of Neurology, found more than 22 percent of the adult children of 111 couples with Alzheimer's had the disease. Among offspring older than 60, more than 30 percent were affected. In those older than 70, nearly 42 percent had the disease.
Previous studies have found 6 percent to 13 percent of the U.S. population older than 65 have the disease. No one knows how many people have two afflicted parents.
For now, there's no cure for the more than 26-million people worldwide estimated to have Alzheimer's, which destroys memory and other mental abilities.
In the study, diagnoses were confirmed through medical records, autopsies and examination by researchers. The parents with Alzheimer's had 297 children who lived to adulthood, and 67 of those children had Alzheimer's.
Dr. Thomas Bird of the University of Washington, senior author of the report, said he was uncomfortable saying the risk tripled or quadrupled in people with two affected parents because the study was small and had no comparison group.
"What I'm comfortable saying is that risk is increased and we're working on trying to find out what the magnitude is," Bird said.