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IKF Blog
Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Predictive genetic testing for Alzheimer’s

If members of your family have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s not an uncommon fear that you may be predisposed to develop the disease. You likely have many questions, including whether it is predominantly genetic or if there is a test that can identify your risk.

Although cognitive impairments are complex and neither an exact cause nor treatment is yet clear, there is genetic testing. However, the Alzheimer’s Association outlines several points they believe you should consider before deciding on receiving a test.

  1. Risk factors identified

Although the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown, there are some risk factors that have been identified. The greatest risk factor for most people is their age. There are two categories for the genes that influence whether someone will develop a disease: risk genes and deterministic genes. Risk genes increase the likelihood of developing a disease while deterministic genes will cause the disease. There are several risk genes and variations regarding Alzheimer’s.

  1. Families with Alzheimer’s in their history

While it may be natural to be more concerned that you might develop Alzheimer’s if someone in your family has, it’s not a predictive measure. A family history of Alzheimer’s isn’t always present for those who develop the disease. Those who have a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer’s are at higher risk and those with more than one such relative are at an even higher risk, but it’s still unknown what exactly the risk may be.

  1. 23andMe Personal Genome Service Genetic Health Risk (GHR) tests

In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed marketing of GHR tests for 10 diseases or conditions, which includes testing for the risk gene associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s. It’s important to understand this isn’t a diagnostic test but one for the presence of the APOE-e4 risk gene. It can’t answer whether you’ll get Alzheimer’s. People can have two copies of the gene and never develop the disease. Also, you could have no copies of the gene and still develop Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association strongly recommends receiving genetic counseling before a test is ordered as well as when the results are obtained.

  1. It’s not as simple as you might think

Currently, the value of the genetic tests that might determine susceptibility to the disease are mainly in a research setting, such as studying the role of genes in the onset and progression of the disease. Even the most impactful known Alzheimer’s risk gene only provides general information about an increased risk. If you’re concerned about your risk, there are other actions you can take. Consider making lifestyle changes as there is evidence pointing to their benefits to reduce your risk.

  1. Consider the full impacts of testing

Outside of participating in a clinical trial or research, some organizations caution that being tested might affect your health or long-term care insurance. Remember, testing won’t guide any medical treatment and knowing if you might develop the disease can cause highly increased anxiety. Receiving genetic counseling is recommended so you can understand the full impact of what the results might mean, including the emotional, social and economic factors. 

Whether you choose to be tested or not, early detection of the disease is beneficial in treating the symptoms. The following 10 warning signs should not be ignored. If you do notice any of these, you should talk to your doctor.

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life: forgetting recently learned information, asking the same questions over and over and needing to rely on others or devices to help.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems: trouble comprehending a plan or working with numbers, such as following a familiar recipe or keeping track of your monthly bills.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks: how to drive to a familiar location, create a grocery list or remember the rules of a favorite game.
  4. Confusion with time or place: losing track of dates, seasons or the passage of time. Forgetting where you are at the moment or how you got there.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships: balance issues or trouble reading, judging distance and determining color and contrast.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing: trouble following or joining a conversation, using the wrong name for a familiar object or stopping in the middle of talking and have no idea how to continue.
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps: putting things in unusual places or accusing others of stealing them.
  8. Decreased or poor judgment: struggling tomanage money, take care of personal hygiene or decision-making.  
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities: thismay result from not being able to have or follow a conversation or the embarrassment of struggling to keep up with familiar activities.
  10. Changes in mood and personality: becoming confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, anxious or easily upset.

(The Alzheimer’s Association)

Ingleside’s Memory Support Assisted Living

We understand how difficult it can be for family members when a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. And part of the stress is likely the worry you feel wondering if this might also happen to you.

With the uncertainty of what testing may reveal and how certain results may affect your life, it is important to talk with your doctor beforehand. And as noted above, one of the most proactive things you can do is to make any needed choices to your own lifestyle to help reduce your risk.

At Ingleside’s Memory Support Assisted Living, we are here to support you and your family as you navigate this challenging and often frightening road. Our experience and knowledge is one of the resources you can always count on to help. 

Call (240) 455-4582 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.

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