Chris Hemsworth discovers he has a high risk of Alzheimers: ‘Not being able to remember life is my greatest fear’

The Australian actor underwent genetic testing as part of a National Geographic documentary. The results revealed that he has an eight to 10-plus chance of developing the disease in the future, but, he says, ‘it’s not like I’ve been handed my resignation’

Chris Hemsworth attends the filming of 'Jimmy Kimmel Live', on November 14, 2022, in Los Angeles (California).
Chris Hemsworth attends the filming of 'Jimmy Kimmel Live', on November 14, 2022, in Los Angeles (California).RB/Bauer-Griffin (GC Images)

The filming of the National Geographic documentary Limitless has changed the life of Chris Hemsworth. The Australian actor has a lot of reasons to thank the new series, which focuses on exploring the potential of the human body and how it is affected by the passage of time. The Thor star underwent a series of genetic tests to see what the future of his DNA held. And he found out. Doctors found two copies of the APOE4 gene, one from his mother and one from his father, which is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Hemsworth has decided not to hide it from the public, discussing the discovery in interviews to raise awareness about the importance of medical checkups.

Limitless shows the actors pushing his body to the limit to overcome stress, maximize performance and fight aging. It is not until the fifth episode, “Memory,” when a doctor explains to him what they have found in his DNA. “They took all my bloodwork and did a bunch of tests and the plan was to on-camera tell me all the results and then talk about how you can improve this and that,” explains the actor in an interview with Vanity Fair. “Peter Attia, who is the longevity doctor in that episode, and overseeing a lot of the show, called [show creator] Darren [Aronofsky] and said, ‘I don’t want to tell him this on camera. We need to have an off-side conversation and see if he even wants this to be in the show.’ It was pretty shocking because he called me up and he told me,” Hemsworth recounts.

Tests revealed that the Marvel star has an eight to 10-plus chance of developing the disease in the future. One in four people has a single copy of the gene, but less than 3% of the population has both, according to a 2021 study by the National Institutes of Health. “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,” he explains in the interview. The doctor explained what he needed to do to prevent and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Chris Hemsworth with 'Limitless' producer Darren Aronofsky at the show's premiere on November 15, 2022, in New York.
Chris Hemsworth with 'Limitless' producer Darren Aronofsky at the show's premiere on November 15, 2022, in New York.Nancy Kaszerman ( / Cordon Press)

Although the opinion took the actor by surprise, his grandfather was diagnosed with the disease in an advanced stage, so he already knew the risk of being a carrier of the gene. “He slips in and out of Dutch, which is his original language, so he’ll be talking Dutch and English and then a mash-up and then maybe some other new words as well,” Hemsworth explains. He did not want to make a spectacle of the diagnosis, and he took from it another life lesson: “I just didn’t want to manipulate it and overdramatize it, and make it into some sort of hokey grab at empathy, or whatever, for entertainment.” In fact, the interpreter was offered the opportunity to release the episode without talking about the disease. “If this is a motivator for people to take better care of themselves and also understand that there are steps you can take, then fantastic.”

Since 2010, Hemsworth has been married to the Spanish actress Elsa Pataky, with whom he has three children: India Rose (10 years old) and the twins Sasha and Tristan (8). The performer has not told them anything: “I don’t think they could have grasped the concept or have the understanding, so no. But again, like you said, it’s not like I’ve been handed my resignation and this is what it is—and it’s up in a few months. It’s not quite that situation, thankfully. One day I’m sure I’ll bring it up. They probably want to test themselves.” In an interview for the television program Good Morning America, he also acknowledged that his “greatest fear” is forgetting about his family: “The idea that I will not be able to remember the life that I have experienced, my wife or my children... is probably my biggest fear.”

Since the episode was taped, Hemsworth has been completely focused on his health. “I feel thankful that I have in my arsenal the sort of tools to best prepare myself and prevent things happening in that way. The benefit of preventative steps is that it affects the rest of your life,” he emphasizes. The Hollywood star acknowledges that he has already gotten used to those close to him making jokes about the diagnosis. “Since you told me that, I feel like my memory’s getting worse. It’s a placebo effect—or it’s taking place!... It’s my excuse now,” he joked in the Vanity Fair interview.

He is not the first public figure to receive a concerning diagnosis as a result of a television show. In September, actor Ryan Reynolds discovered a polyp while filming his first colonoscopy in order to raise awareness about the importance of early detection of colorectal cancer —an act that, as he explained, saved his life.

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