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September 24, 2013

BehindTheMedspeak: Late-onset Alzheimer's can be predicted

An eye-opening story by Pam Belluck in last week's New York Times got my attention in a big way.

Key points:


• Five million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer's and their ranks are projected to surge as baby boomers age.

• A $33.2 million grant, part of the government's national Alzheimer’s plan, will help finance a clinical trial to test a treatment on people 60 to 75 who have no symptoms of the disease, but do have two copies of a gene known to greatly increase the risk of getting it as people age.

• The project will test a drug or placebo on 650 adults. All of the participants will have two copies of the gene ApoE4, having inherited it from both parents.

• Studies have found that more than half the people with two ApoE4 genes will develop Alzheimer's, compared with about one-fourth of people with one copy and 10% of people with no copies. People with two copies also develop symptoms earlier, around age 68, years before most people with one copy and more than a decade before most people without the gene.

• People with two ApoE4 genes make up only about 3% of the population but because they develop the conventional late-onset form of Alzheimer's, they are important to study. About 25 percent of people possess one copy of the gene.


Until I read this article I had no idea that Alzheimer's was that biologically based and predictable.

The question then becomes, should you get tested for ApoE4 now?

I say no.

If you can't treat, don't test.

All you do is open a world of fear and apprehension that will dog you for the rest of your life.

More knowledge in some cases is not power but, rather, leads to a diminution of power, as your life force dissipates itself in uncontrollable anxiety and fear.

September 24, 2013 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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Freakonomics did a great podcast on this topic. They discussed why people choose to either find out, or avoid knowing if they have inherited the genes that they would almost certainly die of Huntington's disease.


Posted by: Jeff | Sep 24, 2013 11:44:02 PM

I forget what I was going to comment on.

Posted by: Joe Peach | Sep 24, 2013 5:04:52 PM

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