There are several variations of affordable at-home genetic tests available these days, many of which have gained popularity, particularly for those who are interested in their future health and longevity. However, it’s vital to learn more about what these tests can and cannot do when it comes to predicting the likeliness of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
How reliable are these tests and is there any gain in finding out you’re predisposed to develop a disease? Read more.
There are personal accounts of people who have taken at-home genetic tests and received less than optimal results; one such story is about a woman who found she was predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease.
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The New York Times recently published the story of Julie Gregory, 49, who paid for a genetic test from a service claiming to specialize in sequencing genes. Gregory states that was hoping she could learn more about some symptoms she was having related to deviations in blood sugar levels and poor circulation. Much to her dismay, she discovered something far more disturbing.
Instead of learning about a genetic link to her blood sugar issues, Gregory discovered she had a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s: two copies of the apoE4 gene variant that leads to the disease.
The New York Times reports that the information Gregory had uncovered was a “time bomb hidden in her DNA.” Gregory says of the experience, “Alzheimer’s was the furthest thing from my mind… I never thought I was at risk. When I saw my results, I was terrified.”
Grappling with an impending disease like Alzheimer’s years before a person is ill is what health care providers, such as Dr. Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Neurology Department in New York, hopes to avoid. “Implementing prevention measures early-on may be a better option than genetic testing,” states Dr. Isaacson. While genetic testing predicts risk, it certainly does not diagnose whether dangerous plaques or other symptoms of Alzheimer’s already exist in the brain.
There are many limitations when it comes to an at-home genetic test for Alzheimer’s:
“We are in a steep curve of learning about the genome now,” says Michael Watson, executive director of the American College of Medical Genetics. “We’re hampered by not having a lot of data on a lot of different populations and conditions.”
The medical field is also on the verge of creating a blood test to detect the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s in people in their 40s and 50s, with no obvious signs or symptoms. The cost of diagnostic tools that can identify the presence of Alzheimer’s today is approximately $4,000.00 and medical insurance providers refuse to pay for screening.
In the future, effective means of blood testing could be affordable and reveal whether millions of people have “pre-Alzheimer’s.” Unlike a genetic test (which only identifies risk for the disease) blood testing would allow for very early intervention and treatment — which many experts believe is the most effective strategy for staving off symptoms.
Have you taken an at-home genetic test for Alzheimer’s or another disease? What did you find? We’d like to hear more about your experiences with genetic testing in the comments below.