While filming a docuseries exploring the impacts of time and age, beloved Australian actor Chris Hemsworth was informed by his doctor that he was eight to 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Despite learning that he had two copies of the ApoE4 gene – the strongest risk factor gene for Alzheimer’s disease – the 39-year-old maintained a stoic optimism, telling Vanity Fair, “I’m going to just not be so focused on the future — and what’s next?”
If you thought the outrage some fans had over Liam Hemsworth replacing Henry Cavill for The Witcher season four was big, just wait until we see the outpouring of support for his brother. While filming episode five of his 2022 National Geographic documentary Limitless, Chris Hemsworth was told he has a higher risk of developing younger onset dementia, also known as Familial Alzheimer’s, which affects people in their 40s and 50s. As a result, Hemsworth announced plans to take an indefinite break from the acting world to spend more time with his family.
But don’t get upset just yet. Just listen to what he had to say to the tabloids: “My concern was I just didn’t want to manipulate it and overdramatise it”. Seeking to avoid “some sort of hokey grab at empathy, or whatever, for entertainment,” Hemsworth said.
“It’s not like I’ve been handed my resignation.”
A fate that has befallen numerous young actors over the years, including Michael J. Fox, who was forced to retire after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Instead, Hemsworth said it was the trigger he needed “to take some time off”.
“Doing an episode on death and facing your own mortality made me go: ‘Oh God, I’m not ready to go yet,” he said. “I want to sit and be in this space with a greater sense of stillness and gratitude. It really triggered something in me to want to take some time off.”
While he hasn’t received a definitive diagnosis, Hemsworth said he wasn’t totally shocked by the revelation due to his grandfather’s battle with the same condition and said the show became more “poignant” for him as it developed.
“The show, which initially was an exploration of longevity and, of course, should be fun, became even more relevant and important for me, even more poignant than I ever thought it would be,” Hemsworth explained. “If you look at Alzheimer’s prevention, the benefit of preventative steps is that it affects the rest of your life…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.”
While the news may seem shocking, considering the number of Hemsworth workout articles we post each year, the ApoE4, or the apolipoprotein E gene, has little to do with fitness. According to information published by the ABC from the US National Institute on Aging (NIA), 25 per cent of people carry one copy of ApoE4, and only 2 to 3 per cent have two copies.
“It’s not a pre-deterministic gene, but it is a strong indication,” he said. “Ten years ago, I think it was more thought of as determinant.” Which hopefully means there’s a chance Hemsworth could live his life without experiencing any dementia-like symptoms.
But when asked if acting still excited him, Hemsworth responded, “I’m in a state of, not passive, but a little more surrendering to things are as they are. I don’t mean that in a sort of apathetic way…But there’s a stillness to my thinking about it all now.”
However, long Hemsworth decides to stay away from Hollywood is clearly a personal choice and one we wish him well on. If you’d like to learn more about Alzheimer’s, we’ve collated a few FAQs below.
Alzheimer’s Disease FAQs
- What is Alzheimer’s Disease? – Alzheimer’s disease is a physical brain condition that shrinks the brain, killing off cells, which slowly destroys memories and thinking skills. It is the most prevalent form of irreversible dementia.
- How does Alzheimer’s affect the brain? – Alzheimer’s disease disrupts the brain’s neurons, affecting how they work and communicate with each other, reducing vital brain chemicals and preventing the transport of messages in the brain.
- Are there different types of Alzheimer’s disease? – Yes, Alzheimer’s disease is categorised as Sporadic or Familial. Sporadic Alzheimer’s is the most common form and usually occurs after age 65. Familial Alzheimer’s, also known as hereditary Alzheimer’s or younger onset dementia, is caused by a very rare genetic condition and results in dementia, usually in people in their 40s and 50s.
- How many Australians are affected by Alzheimer’s disease? – Up to 1 in 10 Australians over 65 and roughly 3 in 10 Australians over 85 are affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
- What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease? – The initial signs of Alzheimer’s disease are memory loss and difficulty finding the right words for everyday things. However, because these symptoms are relatively common, it’s recommended to visit a doctor to determine the exact cause of memory problems. Symptoms will also vary as the condition progresses and different areas of the brain are impacted.
- How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed? – There is no single test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, doctors must conduct a series of examinations and clinical consultations to eliminate other causes before a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be made. These tests include a detailed medical history, physical examinations, blood and urine tests, psychiatric assessments, neuropsychological tests (to assess memory and thinking abilities) and brain scans.
For more information, visit the Dementia Australia website.