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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Alzheimer's Gene Test: No Harm?

Psychological Woes Rare When Gene Test ID's Alzheimer's Risk

Alzheimer's Gene Test Not Recommended continued...

The researchers disclosed the results of the test to two-thirds of the participants. Before and after the ApoE test, participants received extensive genetic counseling. All study participants then underwent a battery of psychological tests over the course of the next year.

The result:

  • Those who learned their test result -- even if it was bad news -- suffered no more anxiety or depression than those who did not learn the result.
  • Six weeks after learning the result of the test, those who learned they had the Alzheimer's gene suffered a bit more distress -- but they got over it.
  • As might be expected, those who learned they did not carry the gene had feelings of relief.

Ongoing studies will look at whether testing had any bad long-term effects.

Pros and Cons of Alzheimer's Gene Test

"There is still a lot to explore in this," Green says. "The bottom line is in conventional medical centers, ApoE is still an experimental test. We are not advocating using it clinically, and we will not use clinically at the present time."

But that doesn't mean people shouldn't get the test -- as long as they understand what they are doing, says Jeffery M. Vance, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Genomic Medicine at the University of Miami Institute for Human Genetics.

"It does not surprise me that with proper medical consultation, patients took the information in an appropriate fashion," Vance tells WebMD. "As a doctor, you provide them the pros and cons -- and that includes all the legal concerns, the medical concerns, and their concerns about the impact of the test on others in their family, their kids. Then let them make the decision."

Perhaps the biggest argument against ApoE testing is that there's no treatment to prevent or delay Alzheimer's disease. That may soon change.

"In Alzheimer's disease, we are talking about a disease where treatments are expected in the near future," Green says. "Once there are treatments, the next clinical question is whether they delay Alzheimer's onset in at-risk people. At that point, it will be important to know who is at higher risk."

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