More Thoughts of Alzheimer’s Disease Testing

January 27, 2011

There has been a great deal of talk in the news recently about Alzheimer’s disease testing for those showing no signs or symptoms of dementia.  In the past, genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease was available, but the test was notoriously inaccurate.  Now, blood tests can predict with complete accuracy whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease at some point.  It sounds like something we would all need to know, until you look a little deeper at the issue.

Alzheimer’s disease is only one of many forms of dementia.  The technical disease process may be different from one form to another, but if you are the victim or the caregiver, Alzheimer’s disease vs. dementia in most other forms doesn’t look significantly different to you.  Dementia can strike at any age, whether from injury or disease process. If you have negative results for an Alzheimer’s test, it doesn’t mean you won’t get an Alzheimer’s “look-alike” dementia, and if you have a positive test, you may not live long enough to get Alzheimer’s disease. You could have a positive test and die at a ripe old age BEFORE you develop it.

In terms of Alzheimer’s disease, 47% of 85 year olds have it. That doesn’t count other forms of dementia caused by vascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy Body disease, etc.  To me, it boils down to statistics: If longevity runs in your family and you expect to live past 85, you have a > 50% chance of developing some type of dementia. If your lifestyle or family history would indicate that you could expect to die younger, your chances are decreased all the way down to about 5% at age 65.

Everyone should be prepared to be mentally or physically disabled, in terms of legal documents, insurance, etc., whether from Alzheimer’s disease or anything else. It’s part of living responsibly. Learning via blood test that I have the potential to develop Alzheimer’s at some point doesn’t really add any new information to my world, so I do not recommend paying the money (not covered by most insurances) for the test.  What would it do for me, other than make me worry that I’m getting Alzheimer’s disease every time I can’t remember someone’s name or where I put my car keys?

The value of this test, in my opinion, is for researchers, not lay people.  If researchers can follow groups of people who have tested positive for Alzheimer’s disease, they can learn more about it.  The more knowledge we have concerning this disease, the more likely we’ll be able to find a cure.

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