As Chris Hemsworth takes time off after discovering Alzheimer's risk, what is the disease?

  • Chris Hemsworth has decided to take a break from work and spend time with his family after discovering he has an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease following genetic tests

  • He has spoken about the steps he wants to take to try and manage the risk and preserve his health

  • Hemsworth is among the 2-3% of the population to inherit two copies of the gene linked to the type of dementia, APOE4

  • Read the full article to find out more about what exactly the condition is and whether you can prevent it

Watch: Chris Hemsworth shares he is genetically predisposed to Alzheimer's

Chris Hemsworth, 39, announced last week that he will take some time off from acting after finding out he has an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

In his new Disney+ documentary series Limitless, in which he explores how humans can live better for longer, tests confirmed his "biggest fear" that he has a genetic predisposition to the disease, he told Vanity Fair.

He discovered he has two copies of the gene APOE4 from both parents, which is associated with a heightened risk of the condition. Inheriting both copies is thought to occur in just 2-3% of the population, and with his grandfather currently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he is eight to 10 times more likely to get it.

"It's not like I've been handed my resignation," he told the magazine in an interview, keen not to over-dramatise it.

But while he emphasised the news wasn't necessarily pre-deterministic, and instead more of a strong indication, he said it "really triggered something in me to want to take some time off", with him planning "to have a good chunk of time off and just simplify".

Read more: Five lifestyle choices that cut the risk of Alzheimer’s identified by scientists

Chris Hemsworth, who has discovered Alzheimer's risk, with Elsa Pataky and their children Sasha and Tristan attend the Sydney premiere of Thor: Love And Thunder at Hoyts Entertainment Quarter. (Getty Images)
Chris Hemsworth, pictured with wife Elsa Pataky and children Sasha and Tristan, plans to spend time with family after Alzheimer's risk discovery. (Getty Images)

Looking to the positives of his new-found knowledge, Hemsworth explained what he wants to focus on for now.

"If you look at Alzheimer's prevention, the benefit of preventative steps is that it affects the rest of your life. When you have preposition to cardiovascular heart disease, cancer, anything – it's all about sleep management, stress management, nutrition, movement, fitness. It's all kind of the same tools that need to be applied in a consistent way."

After the press tour for Limitless finishes, he plans to go home to Byron Bay and be with his kids, India Rose Hemsworth, 10, and twins Tristan Hemsworth and Sasha Hemsworth, both eight, and wife Elsa Pataky, 46.

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia in the UK, which is the name for a group of symptoms associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning, according to the NHS.

This can impact your memory, thinking skills and other mental abilities.

While a specific cause isn't known for certain, risk factors are thought to include increasing age, a family history of the condition, untreated depression, and lifestyle factors associated with cardiovascular disease (affecting the heart or blood vessels).

It is most common in older people, affecting roughly one in 14 over 65 and one in six over 80. That said, around one in 20 experience it under 65, known as early or young-onset Alzheimer's disease.

As Alzheimer's is progressive, symptoms develop gradually over the years and become more severe.

Read more: Daily brisk walk or bike ride 'may reduce older people's risk of Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease symptoms

Senior couple speaking to GP about Alzheimer's symptoms. (Getty Images)
If someone you love has Alzheimer's symptoms, you can suggest going with them to the GP. (Getty Images)

The first sign of Alzheimer's is often minor memory problems, like forgetting about recent conversations or events, or the names of places and objects.

More developed and severe symptoms, according to the health service, include:

  • confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places

  • difficulty planning or making decisions

  • problems with speech and language

  • problems moving around without assistance or doing self-care tasks

  • personality changes

  • hallucinations, and low mood or anxiety

Read more: Eating cranberries could prevent dementia and improve memory, study finds

Can you prevent Alzheimer's disease?

With the exact cause not known, it also makes it hard to know how to prevent the condition.

However, there are some lifestyle factors that are thought to reduce or delay the onset of dementia, as well as benefit your overall physical and mental health. These include:

  • stopping smoking

  • cutting down alcohol

  • eating a healthy, balanced diet

  • maintaining a healthy weight

  • staying physically fit and mentally active

With memory problems often seen as a normal part of growing older, coupled with Alzheimer's preventing people from recognising changes about themselves, signs can often be overlooked.

But an accurate and early diagnosis can help give you the best chance to prepare and plan for the future and receive treatment and support. So, if you're worried about your memory or possible dementia, or have noticed symptoms in someone else, don't delay in speaking to a GP or encouraging and helping them to.

While there's currently no cure, medicines can help to relieve symptoms and support is out there to help make your everyday life easier.

Read more: Dementia 'rare' within 20 years and lifestyle changes can delay onset, says expert

For more information on Alzheimer's and treatment, visit the NHS website.

You can also see our useful guide on what other types of dementia there are.

Get support and advice by calling Alzheimer's Society on 0333 150 3456, or other info lines that might be more accessible to you.