The Alzheimer’s Gene: Do You Want to Know?

If there was a way to know if you were predisposed to developing Alzheimer’s disease, would you want to know? As tests to evaluate an individual’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease advance, this is a question plaguing the minds of more and more Americans, especially those who have parents or other relatives with the disease.

According to the Washington Post, two-thirds of U.S. respondents in a survey last year conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health said they’d want to know if they were likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Ways to detect Alzheimer’s disease

Currently, there are no definitive tests that are 100% accurate in detecting a person’s predisposition to developing Alzheimer’s, but scientists have identified a gene mutation occurring on one of three chromosomes that has been linked to the development of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Only about 5 percent of Alzheimer’s patients have inherited this form of the disease, however.

Alzheimer's diagnostic tests unreliable

Image via With Good Reason Radio

In some cases, evidence of Alzheimer’s disease can be detected in the brain decades before the person ever shows signs or symptoms. This can be done using scans, which can show beta-amyloid, a protein often present in the brains of individuals with the disease. There are also blood tests that can detect changes in proteins in the blood or Cerebrospinal fluid, also associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

No insurance coverage for diagnostic testing

Most insurance carriers won’t cover scans or blood work to determine the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease, however. Insurance companies don’t feel that these diagnostic tests are necessary for patients who are showing symptoms and even for those who are not yet exhibiting any signs of the disease. That’s because these tests aren’t yet clinically proven, and there’s no real guarantee of accuracy even if these tests should show a predisposition. An individual could have a buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain and yet never develop Alzheimer’s disease.

There’s also the risk that individuals found to be predisposed to developing Alzheimer’s disease may have a harder time obtaining insurance coverage. Health insurance providers aren’t legally allowed to discriminate based on pre-existing conditions, but life insurance providers and long-term care insurance carriers aren’t subject to the same restrictions. Long-term care insurers, in particular, may hesitate to ensure someone with the likelihood of developing the disease, because long-term care costs can be significant for Alzheimer’s patients.

What’s your opinion? Given the limited reliability of diagnostic tests in asymptomatic patients, combined with the risk of insurance coverage issues, would you want to know if given the opportunity to find out?


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