Little Distress From Alzheimer's Gene Test

In study, even gene carriers said they'd recommend screening to others

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MONDAY, June 20, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Conventional wisdom suggests the adult children of Alzheimer's patients might react negatively to gene tests aimed at calculating their own risk for the brain-robbing disorder.

But a new study finds that's not the case.

Researchers found that people who underwent genetic risk assessment for Alzheimer's were satisfied and psychologically unharmed -- even when their results suggested they might be at high risk for the disease.

The findings were presented Monday at the Alzheimer's Association's International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia, in Washington, D.C.

In their study, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine randomly divided 162 adult children of Alzheimer's patients into two groups. The people in one group were assessed for Alzheimer's risk based on their age, family history and gender. Those in the second group were assessed based on age, family history, gender and for one form of the Apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene called Apoe4 -- a known risk marker for Alzheimer's disease.

One year after this assessment, the researchers found no significant differences in tests of anxiety and depression between the study participants who were told they were either positive or negative for the Apoe4 gene or those who did not receive disclosure.

Overall, 95 percent of the study participants said they'd choose risk assessment again, and 82 percent said they'd recommend risk assessment to family or friends.

"There has been concern that genetic testing for Alzheimer's disease would lead to misunderstanding and cause depression and discrimination," William Thies, vice president for medical & scientific affairs at the Alzheimer's Association, said in a prepared statement. "This study suggests that, with appropriate and accurate communication, genetic risk assessment doesn't have to be a fear-filled process for people."

"As new treatments are developed to delay the onset of Alzheimer's, it is going to be critical to identify those at greatest risk," study leader Dr. Robert C. Green added in a prepared statement.

"At the same time, it will be very important that genetic risk assessment is done carefully and communicated accurately so individuals feel empowered by the results, and are able to maintain a positive outlook and a good quality of life," Green said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease genetics.

SOURCE: Alzheimer's Association, news release, June 20, 2005

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