DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Genetic testing. At home.
The FDA has given the green light to an at-home test that can detect a genetic risk for a number of diseases including Alzheimer Disease. There is no specific cause for the disease and there is no cure. So would you want to know?
“Yes,” says Penny Howie of Forney, without hesitation. “We’re so busy and we forget things… and you don’t know if it’s because you’re so busy, or if there is something wrong. I think it’s exciting.”
But, for now, Howie is worried. Her family has gathered at a Dallas doctor’s office to learn if her father is Alzheimer’s latest victim. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, another patient is diagnosed every 66 seconds.
“It’s very scary seeing the man that raised you, that loved you, deteriorate at some point,” she admits, with her voice breaking and a tear beginning to form.
As genetic testing becomes more accessible, Howie says she would want to know if she has inherited an increased risk for the disease.
“I think it would make me take better care,” says Howie, “keep my affairs in order”.
A California based company, 23andME, Inc., has secured FDA approval to market the at home genetic tests. Still, local Alzheimer’s experts are urging caution—and encouraging patients to discuss the testing with their doctor, first.
“Do your homework beforehand,” urges Diana Kerwin, M.D., Texas Alzheimer’s & Memory Disorders, “is it going to affect you from getting disability insurance? Long-term care insurance? Is it going to cause you to be anxious? Is it going to cause your family to anxious?”
Dr. Kerwin says knowledge of genetic risk factors can be helpful if it encourages patients to make healthier lifestyle choices in a nudge toward prevention. However, she also says it’s important to remember that a ‘risk’ is different than a diagnosis.
“We have patients that do get Alzheimer’s and don’t have the genetic marker and we have other patients that don’t get Alzheimer’s and have that genetic marker,” says Dr. Kerwin, “so it’s not a guarantee and people really need to understand that.”
As for what will come next for her father, Howie, says they haven’t figured that out. But, stresses that faith is a constant in uncertain times.
“Just because we have the faith doesn’t mean it’s not scary, we just know he’ll be there for us.”