FAQ: Is there a test for Alzheimer's(usable if updated, and if Fact sheet Genetic Testing, is updated)

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Dear FCA,

My mother has Alzheimer's disease and now it looks like my uncle (Mom's brother) may also have it. It's very hard on our family. But even more, I'm getting nervous about my own risk of developing the disease. I'm 39 and am already starting to worry about this. I've heard there is a test you can take to find out if you're going to develop Alzheimer's. How can I find out more about this test?

Answer:

You're not alone in your worrying. Many adult children express fear when a parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. A devastating illness affects the whole family on an emotional level, partly because it's suddenly easy to see one's self in a parent's shoes.)

Alzheimer's disease does occasionally cluster in families. However, from what we know today, it is not, strictly speaking, a hereditary disease. In a relatively small proportion of families, there appears to be a genetic link. Typically, in these cases, the affected person is likely to begin showing signs of the disease relatively early (50's and 60's).

Genetic testing is just starting to be available for Alzheimer's disease but is usually not recommended because evidence of a genetic predisposition (most notably the APOE gene) cannot predict with total accuracy that the person will actually develop the disease--ever. A positive test could raise anxiety, but provide no assurances. Moreover, since to date there is little early treatment for Alzheimer's disease, the value of taking such a test is questionable.

If you feel anxious about a possible predisposition to Alzheimer's, talking it over with your family, a counselor, spiritual advisor or trusted friend may help in making a decision about testing. A genetic counselor is also valuable in helping you weigh your reasons and in understanding any test results.)

For more information on heredity and genetic testing, please check out our fact sheet on Genetic Testing.

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