Genetic Testing and Alzheimer’s

With the growth in public awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, the proliferation of marketing communications related to research and purported treatments, and regular reports about new findings and regulatory actions, many people have questions about the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease and the value of genetic testing for Alzheimer’s risk – for themselves and for loved ones. Here are some things to know.

The genetics of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (such as frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body dementia, etc.) varies from one disorder to another. At this time, genetic tests that determine susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease are primarily of value in a research setting, for example in studies investigating the role of genes in the onset and progression of the disease.

A person genuinely concerned about their dementia risk, or the risk of a loved one, based on family history, should consider making lifestyle changes regardless of genetic status. Growing evidence indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits.

As of this writing, there is no effective pharmaceutical intervention to slow or stop Alzheimer’s, and there is no definitive research on how to prevent the disease. At-home genetic testing, or other genetic testing outside of a research setting, must be considered very carefully by an individual, in consultation with his or her family and physician. Things to think about when considering genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease may include how it could affect one’s employment, health insurance and long-term care insurance. People should receive genetic counseling before a test is ordered and when the results are obtained. A genetic counselor may be found through the National Society of Genetic Counselors (nsgc.org).

The Alzheimer’s Association cautions against routine genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease risk until an individual has received proper counseling and understands the information necessary to make an informed decision, including the social and economic factors that could be impacted by having this genetic information. With an unsupervised, at-home test, there is a real possibility of misunderstanding results, which could result in making misinformed decisions about your health.

If you are already experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline, see a health care professional for a full evaluation.

If you have a question about Alzheimer’s disease, you can always call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 for more information.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s®. For more information, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.
 
Scott Finley is Media Relations Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association® in Texas.  He can be reached at scfinley@alz.org