Estimating Alzheimers disease risk: Testing my genes
Sadly, as many of you will know; my father passed away from complications relating to Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia (mixed dementia) just a few days ago. He had been campaigning to raise awareness and funding for the Alzheimer’s Society for around a year, and was very keen that I should continue his work.
Dad made no bones about the fact that suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease was one of the worst times of his life. He lost his driving license, his independence, his creativity, his memory, his identity and eventually his life to the disease. I think you’ll agree that’s a pretty terrible way to go. And that doesn’t even cover the half of it. Hallucinations, paranoia, emotional, and angry outbursts are some additional things you might experience, or observe, but of course as the sufferer – you can’t always see that it’s the disease that’s causing these changes. In fact, to you, you feel like the only sane one; like the World is caving in around you and nobody else can see it. But you’re normal, you’re sane… you haven’t lost your mind. At least that’s your experience as the person suffering from the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is 60-80% heritable, or so geneticists estimate. That means that your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease is around 60-80% down to your inherited genetics. So, as my father has recently died from the disease it’s at the forefront of my mind that I may well be carrying the genes that predispose me to, or may even cause, development of Alzheimer’s disease in my later years. Perhaps this is a selfish way to look at it. But, I’m a scientist at heart so it’s certainly of great interest to me. The personal connection just makes it more real.
So, I’m getting genotyped. By this, I mean I’m sending off a saliva sample to 23andme in order for them to characterise my genes. Part of this process will involve the geneticists looking at a range of my genes that may (or may not) predispose me to getting Alzheimer’s disease (as well as a range of other diseases including cancers and diabetes). In 2-3 weeks I’ll have my results which will tell me if I have any genes that specifically raise my chance of getting Alzheimer’s.
So what if my results come back positive; that is that I have a genetic makeup that gives me a very high (or at least an above average chance) of developing the disease. Well, this will have been the case whether I know it or not, but then I will be armed with the knowledge. And is knowledge power in these cases? I really do believe it is, and that it will become more powerful as science progresses. I certainly am not a believer in the “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” doctrine. Quite the opposite in fact.
New data about using diet, supplements, exercise, pharmaceuticals etc. to reduce the risk of developing AD is being published all the time, and knowing what I will know, I can make the informed decisions as to whether I will incorporate these decisions into my day-to-day life. If my risk is increased, then I can increase monitoring efforts, inform my GP that I am at higher risk, and be more ready if cognitive changes do start to occur.
I’ll update you in a few weeks when I get my results back. Then I will know. And knowing is half the battle.