Should You Get Genetic Testing for Alzheimer’s Disease?

  • According to an international study last year from the Harvard School of Public Health, Alzheimer’s disease was the second biggest health fear after cancer. The survey also found that there are a significant number of people who were interested in predictive testing. Approximately two thirds of respondents said that they would be willing to get a medical test which would tell them whether or not they would develop Alzheimer’s disease before they had symptoms.


    At this point in time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and little treatment. Nor can we reliably prevent it.  We can exercise, eat a healthy diet, maintain an optimum weight, socialize and stay mentally active –we can do everything right – yet we can still develop Alzheimer’s disease.

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    An article on stated that, “Although there are no definitive tests that predict whether most people will get the disease, people sometimes want such information for legal and financial planning purposes or to help weigh the need for long-term-care insurance.” According to the article, this is especially true if the person has had several family members develop Alzheimer’s disease. Most insurance companies don’t cover genetic testing for Alzheimer’s.


    Ironically, the Post article said that one danger of early testing is that long-term-care insurers may use genetic testing results when evaluating whether to insure a person who applies. While The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits health insurers and employers from discriminating against people based on their genetic information, life and long-term-care insurers are not covered by the law.


    Age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. About half of those who develop late-onset Alzheimer’s don’t have any genetic markers, so according to the Harvard Study, “genetic testing in asymptomatic people…isn’t definitive or even all that informative…For late-onset Alzheimer’s, the predictive value of genetic testing is low.”


    Late on-set Alzheimer’s disease is thought to develop from a combination of genes, environment and lifestyle which can explain to some degree the fact that testing is unreliable. Only about 5 % of Alzheimer’s cases are the early on-set type, which means that the disease develops before the age of 60. This type of AD may be more gene dependent.


    Why are people clamoring to be tested by private laboratories when the results aren’t conclusive and a positive result could possibly cause future problems? Apparently, it’s our human “need to know,” even if knowing is a relative term.


    This “need to know” may help researchers, so there is value in testing even if it’s just for increasing the knowledge base for scientists. Since, occasionally, clinical studies require volunteers willing to be tested for AD risk, you may qualify for free testing.  If you are interested, you can go to the National Institute on Aging National Institutes of Health site at and see if there is a clinical study of interest to you. If you find one and are accepted you won’t have to worry about insurance coverage.


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    Andrews, M. (2012, August 13) Despite fears of Alzheimer’s, many would like to know their risk for the disease. Retrieved from


    Harvard School of Public Health (2012, July 20, 2011) International Survey Highlights Great Public Desire to Seek Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer's. Retrieved from

Published On: August 19, 2012