Researchers Making Progress to Track Alzheimer's, But Do You Want to Know?

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • The good news – news sources are reporting the promise of new tests that can track Alzheimer’s disease at the earliest stages. For instance, Reuters News Service reported on several studies that were presented during a recent Alzheimer’s Association meeting in Austria. Findings included:

    -          Scans that measure brain volume along with a battery of memory tests can accurately identify the progression from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to early Alzheimer’s disease in 95 percent of those tested.

    -         A brain scan that measures glucose, when combined with low scores on memory tests, is a strong predictor of how the disease Is progressing.

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    Furthermore, genetic tests are now available that can help predict who has a better chance of getting this disease. Yet, does a person who may have a family history of Alzheimer’s want to know?

    New York Times reporter Denise Grady described a study that found that taking a genetic test in order to identify an increased risk of Alzheimer’s doesn’t pose psychological harm. This study followed 162 adults who had a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. All of these adults participated in genetic testing; of those, 51 were not told the results of the testing. All 162 adults completed standardized surveys six weeks after the tests were completed, and then again at the six-month mark and the one-year mark. These surveys were designed to measure anxiety, depression and distress caused by the test results. Researchers found no significant differences between the people who were told of their test results and those 51 adults who did not know the results.

    “In the study, people who found out they did not have the risky gene were relieved, even though they understood that they were still not in the clear,” Grady wrote. “Those who learned they had the gene were more likely than those who did not, or who did not know, to regard their risk of Alzheimer’s as higher and to express negative feelings about receiving the results. But those feelings did not translate into distress. And those who had the gene were no less likely than the others to say they would have the test all over again, the researchers said.”

    I have to be honest -- although this disease is prevalent in my mother’s side of the family, I don’t want to have genetic testing until drugs are discovered that can eliminate the disease. Having been a caregiver for my mother and also helped with my grandmother, I’m afraid that I’d become obsessive about the slightest memory slip if I participated in the testing and found that I had the gene. If I was diagnosed with the disease, then I would want to know more, but currently being symptom free, I choose to embrace not knowing all the details. Instead, I’d rather put my focus on the preventative measures we know about today – diet, exercise, stress reduction, stimulating the brain by trying new things, and maintaining strong relationships with family and friends. By taking this route, I at least can feel that I’m being proactive in caring for my mental and physical health.

  • However, knowing that these tests are available and that researchers are making progress on identifying the progression of Alzheimer’s in order to find a way to stop this disease eases my mind as well. Hopefully researchers will continue to make substantial progress so that Alzheimer’s will become a footnote in the history books. And hopefully, those breakthroughs will come soon.

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Published On: July 17, 2009