Would you want to know if you were predisposed to Alzheimer’s Disease? There are certainly good reasons to say yes and no to this. Those who have seen the devastating effects the disease can have on someone close to them may say they just want to live their life without knowing if they have a predisposition to it themselves. Others may wish to know so they can monitor the situation from an earlier stage and perhaps receive treatment to try and slow the disease’s progression.
As I was driving home from the office last week, I heard a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered which made me consider this question. I’ve often heard people say that if they were predisposed to Alzheimer’s Disease, they wouldn’t want to know about it because they’ve been close to someone who suffered from this terrible disease. This radio segment presented a counterpoint to this position. Perhaps the most effective treatment for the disease is slowing its progression before the typical symptom leading to diagnosis, cognitive impairment, occurs. This would require early screening to determine an individual’s risk of suffering from the disease. To listen to the segment, click here.
Through studying patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers have found these patients have an abundance of brain irregularities called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. These abnormalities have become strongly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. To learn more about amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, click here.
At the current time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Treatment of the disease currently focuses on an attempt to provide relief from some of the symptoms, such as memory loss. Unfortunately, the current treatments available to Alzheimer’s patients do not slow the progression of the disease.
A new project, called the A4 Study, seeks to change this. Researchers are targeting individuals who have a build-up of the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s Disease but do not yet suffer from memory impairment. The researchers will administer an experimental drug to some of the participants that attempts to clear the amyloid plaques. This type of treatment has shown promise in patients suffering from very early, mild forms of dementia. The hope is that it will work for people before they begin to suffer from any of the symptoms.
Researchers interviewed in the radio segment compared getting screened for Alzheimer’s Disease to early screening for heart disease. It’s common practice to have tests done to check for high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure. Early treatment of these issues can help delay or prevent heart disease, so why not employ the same method in detecting the risk factors associated with dementia?
I think a lot of it has to do with the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this article. Would you want to know if you were predisposed to Alzheimer’s? Knowing that early detection may be the key to prevention, would that change your mind?