Knowing Genetic Risk for AD is Helpful

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

There has been ongoing debate between the advocates for knowing one's genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease and those who think the information is useless if not harmful. The respective arguments break out as follows:

In favor of knowing genetic risk
The knowledge will relieve the needlessly worried (when the genetic risks are low) and may encourages a more proactive approach toward managing other risk factors (when the genetic risks are high).

Against knowing genetic risk
The knowledge may lead to undue anxiety and depression among those with high genetic risks, especially since there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease.

I think the argument against "knowing" is weak for a couple of reasons. First, it is purely speculative and second, it undersells the effectiveness of current treatments in some patients, especially when intervention occurs at an early stage of the disease. According to new research out of Boston University and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the argument against knowing is indeed weak.

In a study of 162 asymptomatic adults with a parent who had Alzheimer's disease, researchers randomly divided the research subjects into two groups, one of which would learn their genetic information and one which would not. At follow up periods of 6 weeks, 6 months, and 1 year, participants were assessed for symptoms of anxiety, depression, and test-related distress and the results were compared across the two groups. The results showed no significant increase in emotional distress among those who learned of a high genetic risk while showing a reduction in emotional distress among those who learned that their risks were low.

To be clear, I don't think anyone should have such information thrust upon them if they don't wish to know. But among the increasingly well-educated consumers of health care, there is an appetite for information and I support everyone's right to know about their own risks.

The results of this study bode well for the campaign to identify those at risk for a memory disorder and to intervene in a timely manner. Doing so may be an important step toward optimizing health and preserving quality of life.

This is a topic about which there is much debate in the press and often, the writers are poorly informed. If you found this useful, please share it by adding the link to your Facebook page, by Digging the article, or by distributing via email/Twitter as you prefer. The "share" button enabling these services and others is below.

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