Genes don’t necessarily predict Alzheimer’s disease

Dear Doctor K: Alzheimer’s runs in my family. Will it help to get gene testing for this disease?

Dear Reader: Family history is indeed a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. If you have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s, you’re more likely to develop the disease than someone who does not have a close relative with this condition.

Genetics is most important in families with a history of early-onset Alzheimer’s (occurring between ages 30 and 60). The early-onset form accounts for less than 1 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases, but in most people with early-onset disease, the cause is one of several altered, or mutated, genes that the person has inherited from a parent.

Several genes responsible for early-onset Alzheimer’s have been identified. They are called APP, PSEN1 and PSEN2. If someone inherits one of these mutated genes, it is very likely (but not certain) he or she will develop the disease.

Testing for these genes is costly and is not usually covered by insurance. At this time, there is no treatment proven to prevent or slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. However, some people want to know if they have one of these genes so they can use that information in planning for their future.

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