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Is Ignorance Really Bliss When It Comes To Knowing Your Risk of Alzheimer’s? Medical Experts Are Split

Researchers have only recently been able to use brain scans to detect Alzheimer's risk factors in living people.
Researchers have only recently been able to use brain scans to detect Alzheimer's risk factors in living people.

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The rise of direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies has given us a closer look into the makeup of our DNA than ever before, and beyond finding out your family heritage, these tests also give consumers access to health markers that show a risk of developing a disease down the road.

But what is the value of actually knowing your risk of developing a disease that, at least currently, has no real treatment or prevention options?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal poses this question, and the answer is anything but clear. Many who advocate for the value of testing say that patients who learn of their risk often change their lifestyle, incorporating more exercise or eating better, both things that most doctors agree can help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. But some medical professionals are more skeptical, and say that there’s little to no utility in knowing your risk for a disease when you can’t really do anything to prevent it, and that the burden of the knowledge only adds to stress, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. They add that it might also force some people to make life decisions they wouldn't otherwise, like deciding not to have children or choosing to put less money away for retirement because they don't think they'll live long enough to retire.

Today on AirTalk, we’ll explore the pros and cons of knowing one’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Would you want to know your risk? Why or why not? How would you respond? Join the conversation at 866-893-5722.


Robert C. Green, M.D., medical geneticist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he directs the Genomes2People, a genomics research program; he tweets @RobertCGreen

Craig Klugman, professor of health sciences at DePaul University in Chicago where he specializes in bioethics and medical anthropology; he tweets @CraigKlugman