If your parent or grandparent developed Alzheimer’s disease, you may be wondering if it could be passed down to you or another family member. This is a natural fear, especially for adult children who worry that every lapse in memory could be a sign of dementia. Although the cause of Alzheimer’s continues to be unknown, there is a genetic test that can be taken to determine if you have genes that could potentially impact your risk of developing the disease yourself.
Before deciding whether or not genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease is right for you, know that these types of tests are not cut and dry. There are multiple variables involved that you should be aware of. Being informed can help determine if testing would be beneficial or cause further anxieties leaving you with more questions instead of answers.
What genes increase my risk?
Although most tests evaluate thousands of genes, there are two specific categories that are important to look at. The first category is called risk genes. These are the genes that increase the likelihood of developing a disease; however, this is not a guarantee that it will be developed. Specifically regarding Alzheimer’s, the risk gene APOE-e4 is what is looked for to determine if you are at increased risk. If you have one APOE-e4, your chances increase and if you have two your chances increase more. This increase varies from person to person making it difficult to say how much your chances go up.
What genes result in developing Alzheimer’s?
The second gene category directly related to developing Alzheimer’s is called deterministic genes, also known as familial Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr. Keith Fargo Ph.D., Director of Scientific Programs and Outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association, deterministic genes directly cause a disease; they guarantee that anyone who inherits one will develop the disorder. Research shows that gene variations in three proteins, amyloid precursor protein (APP), presenilin-1 (PS-1) and presenilin-2 (PS-2), will result in Alzheimer’s disease. This sounds scary and it is, however, keep in mind that this form of Alzheimer’s accounts for fewer than 5% of cases.
Is testing right for me or my loved one?
Interpreting and dealing with the results of an Alzheimer’s genetic test can be complicated. The Alzheimer’s Association advises against taking any tests without first expressing your concerns with your physician and or a genetic counselor. It is important to remember that no matter what genes you carry, anyone can develop Alzheimer’s disease. Another concern is that misinterpreting results can cause people to believe they will develop Alzheimer’s when they may not. Furthermore, if you are among the 5% carrying the gene for familial Alzheimer’s disease, would you be able to handle the anxieties of knowing and not being able to change the future?