Monday, July 20, 2009

Learning of Risk of Alzheimer’s Seems to Do No Harm

A genetic test that can find an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease does no psychological harm to people who take it, even if they test positive for a risky gene, a new study finds.

The results challenge views long held by the medical establishment, which has discouraged people from being tested, arguing that the test is not definitive, that it may needlessly frighten people into thinking a terrible disease is hanging over them and that testing is pointless anyway because there is no way to cure or prevent the dementia caused by Alzheimer’s.

“There has been this extraordinary worry that disclosing risk was going to devastate people,” said Dr. Robert C. Green, a professor of neurology, genetics and epidemiology at Boston University, and the lead author of the study, which is being published on Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine. “This has upended those assumptions.”

The idea behind the study was to treat information like a drug, something with risks and benefits that could be measured, Dr. Green said.

Dr. Green led a large team in the study, called Reveal, in which 162 adults who had a close relative with Alzheimer’s could find out if they had the genes that increased their risk for the disease. All participants had genetic testing, but 51, picked at random, were not told the results. The other 111 were told, and the two groups were compared.


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