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Do Healthy Seniors Need Alzheimer’s Testing?

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonMay 22, 2019

Last Updated: May 22, 2019

Do healthy seniors need Alzheimer’s disease testing and does knowing the risk of illness create stress and jeopardize insurance coverage?

Alzheimer’s is one of the conditions people fear the most when they think about aging — and why wouldn’t we? Nobody wants to consider their senior loved ones losing their memories or suffering from the cognitive decline and dementia that characterizes the disease. So if you could do something to prevent it, wouldn’t you? The answer isn’t quite as clear-cut as a simple “yes” or “no.” In fact, a number of medical professionals are opposed to the idea of Alzheimer’s testing. Read these three reasons why.

Alzheimer’s Testing: 3 Things to Consider

Alzheimer’s testing can be difficult to carry out when a parent or senior loved one isn’t showing any obvious symptoms.

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Brain scans might indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s in the form of protein clumps, but blood tests, brain scans and genetic tests are often not covered by health insurers.

These aren’t the only reasons why some providers are discouraging tests for Alzheimer’s, however:

1. Genetic testing results aren’t definitive.

Though genetic testing may reveal an increased risk for Alzheimer’s later in life, environmental and lifestyle factors play a role, too. Test results can tell you if your senior loved ones have a higher probability of developing the disease, but they can’t predict the risk with any certainty. Many of those who develop Alzheimer’s don’t display any telltale genetic markers.

2. Knowing your risk could cause unnecessary stress.

Some medical providers are worried about the psychological strain that results from knowing one is at risk for developing an incurable disease. Testing positive for Alzheimer’s risk isn’t a life sentence by any means, and it could very well cause unnecessary distress in seniors if they think illness is inevitable.

3. Some insurance companies won’t cover those at risk.

Not only is it rare for health insurance companies to cover brain scans or genetic testing for Alzheimer’s, life insurance companies and long-term-care insurers may use the results of genetic testing to deny coverage to those at risk. Health care companies are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of genetic test results, but the law doesn’t apply to life or long-term-care insurance companies.

What Healthy Seniors Need to Know About Alzheimer’s Testing

Worries about seniors’ mental health may be unfounded, however. Recent studies have proven that people who know the status of their APOE gene are no more anxious or depressed than those who don’t know their risk for developing Alzheimer’s.

But, people want information. Some seniors, in particular, want to be able to organize their personal lives and prepare their families for the idea that they might become ill.

If your loved one decides that he or she wants to know the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, many genetic counselors advise getting life insurance and long-term-care insurance before going in to get tested.

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Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson
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