People who learn they are prone to developing Alzheimer's disease through genetic testing are not more likely to experience anxiety, depression, or stress, but in fact are apt to take pro-active steps to reduce their risk of developing the condition — by exercising, eating a healthy diet, and taking recommend vitamins and drugs.
That's the surprising conclusion of a new study by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania that lays to rest some medical experts' concerns that Alzheimer’s test results could cause undue mental stress in light of the fact that there is no effective treatment or cure for the disease.
The findings, presented this week at an international meeting of the Alzheimer's Association, suggests genetic testing could provide significant benefits to people at risk of developing the disease and should be more widely offered.
"This study informs our understanding of the impact of people finding out their genetic risk for Alzheimer's in the absence of any treatments to prevent dementia," said lead researcher Jason Karlawish, M.D., professor of medicine and medical ethics and health policy in Penn's Perelman School of Medicine.
"We saw that, following their genetic counseling session, people took positive steps to mitigate their Alzheimer's risk, such as following a healthy diet and exercising. They might also be willing to join an Alzheimer's dementia prevention trial."
The findings are based on an analysis of 648 people tested for the Alzheimer's disease genetic risk marker known as APOe4. Only 4 percent of participants (28 people) were in the highest risk group, carrying two copies of APOe4, while 34 percent (221) had a single copy of the gene and 62 percent (399) carried no genetic risk marker.
After a year of following the three groups, there was no inflated perceived risk of getting Alzheimer's disease, nor was there any significant difference between groups for scores on anxiety, depression, and test-related distress. But many of the participants took active steps to counteract their genetic risks of developing the disease.
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