I remember having an in-depth conversation with my brother last year, which ties into our topic today. There had been some silly quiz that went viral, stating the date you’d pass away — and how.
Of course, it was all a bit ridiculous, but it had us thinking — would we really want to know?
If we knew that we would fall ill later in life, would it influence how we live our lives today?
What If You Knew You Would Develop Alzheimer’s?
This week, there was an interesting article published in the New York Times. After requesting that her genes be sequenced, a 49 year old woman was not expecting the news she received. Expecting to learn about poor circulation or poorly balanced blood sugar, she instead found out that she carried two copies of ApoE4.
She has since developed a website for individuals like herself, building a community of other ApoE4 carriers. Today, this nonprofit website has more than 2,000 members. They share their experiences, reach out to researchers, and simply offer support.
As stated in the original article, diagnostic tests can often do more than predict our future health — they can act as a political or social platform. This is exactly what we saw in the 1980s, when H.I.V. tests became available. Those who were diagnosed banned together, demanding more medical trials and access to treatment.
This movement resulted in treatments that have significantly extended the lives of AIDS patients. Of course, Alzheimer’s is a whole other beast — but it just goes to show what a group of people can accomplish when they are their greatest advocate.
How a Blood Test Could Change Everything
Based on advances in technology, this woman may represent a type of sufferer, that we could encounter more and more often. I’m talking about those who are young and healthy, but living with the looming threat of Alzheimer’s — without yet dealing with the disease itself.
Well, considering we are nearing closer to a blood test that would detect early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, individuals in their 40s could find out that they’re at a significantly increased risk, long before they experience any obvious symptoms.
Currently, individuals are only really examined (outside of medical research) once problematic symptoms develop. At that point, the only way to see if damaging plaques are building up in the brain, is to administer a PET scan — which costs around $4000.
What this blood test would do, is be able to quickly and cost-effectively determine thousands, if not millions of people, who are currently living with a genetic ‘pre-Alzheimer’s condition.
Recommended reading: Could Alzheimer’s Start in the Blood, Then Transfer to the Brain?
This brings me back to my first point — would you want to know? If you had the opportunity to learn whether or not your cognition may decline in later years, would you take it?
This answer differs from person-to-person. With no cure, some feel like, what’s the point? Whereas others believe it would be a positive experience, as they then know the facts and can deal with them accordingly.
Of course, not all cases of Alzheimer’s can be traced to this gene variance, but this is a great starting point. If we know who is at-risk, this could significantly improve research methodologies.
If people knew that they were likely going to develop Alzheimer’s, they may become their greatest advocate, as discussed above. Times that by a million, and there may be an Alzheimer’s movement. After all, the majority of individuals with Alzheimer’s, cannot currently get involved and make their voices heard.
Where Do We Go From Here?
At this point, the best thing you can do is to stay informed. Education and awareness are everything.
Today, over 50 million across the world live with Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to grow. Although it appears that we know little about this disease, what we have discovered in the past 10 years or so, is something to celebrate. We know that:
- Alzheimer’s is caused by damage to the brain, as cells lose their ability to function and eventually die. This is what leads to issues surrounding cognition, personality, and behavior.
- Certain areas of the brain begin to shrink, which is known as atrophy.
Why this occurs is still up for debate, however, it’s clear that the two proteins, amyloid and tau may play a key role. There is also a potential connection between Alzheimer’s and the circulatory system.
As the research continues to unfold, many experts believe that a more personalized approach will be the answer in terms of a treatment. With that being said, Alzheimer’s prevention strategies appear to be just as vital. Throughout the research, certain risk factors have been identified, accounting for more than 50 percent of the risk, including:
- High blood pressure
- Kidney problems
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- High cholesterol
- Coronary heart disease
- Low activity lifestyle
Be your own personal advocate, by taking take of your health today!