Last month, Chris Hemsworth announced that he would be taking a break from his acting career to focus on his health. He publicly announced that after undergoing genetic testing he found out he has copies of the APOE4 gene, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Hemsworth told reporters that although he isn’t experiencing symptoms at this time, he is focused on mitigating his risks for developing the disease.
APOE is a gene that helps carry cholesterol through the bloodstream. Everyone has two versions of the gene, but different variants can point to different outcomes. The APOE2 variant shows a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, APOE3 is neutral, and APOE4 shows an increased risk. Having two copies of the APOE4 variant, like Hemsworth, is associated with 10-fold higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and an earlier onset of the disease.
Genetic testing can be done through your doctor or through at home kits, such as 23andMe. But not everyone recommends getting tested. Dr. Gary Small, of Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, typically tries to dissuade people from the test. He says that a family history of dementia points to an increased risk and that the test won’t tell you much more than that. Others, like University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Margaret Pericak-Vance, suggest getting tested and meeting with a genetic counselor to understand what the risks look like.
While experts may disagree on testing, there is consensus on how to reduce the overall risk of dementia. Studies show that healthy habits, like physical activity, eating well, limiting alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy social life can fend off the neurodegenerative disease.
For more information see Dana G. Smith “How to Know if You Have a Genetic Risk for Alzheimer’s”, The New York Times, November 23, 2022.
Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.