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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gene Testing For Alzheimer's APOE ε4 -- Worth It?


It might be interesting if ABC Nightline did another program with Terry Moran and Meryl Comer to find out a year later how they are feeling and how they changed their lives since receiving the test results. I believe many Alzheimer's caregivers would be interested in learning from their experience.

Bob De Marco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Gene Testing For Alzheimer's APOE ε4 -- Worth It?

From time to time I receive emails asking me about gene testing and Alzheimer's disease. Often people want to know if I think they should get testing. Sometimes they ask me how they can get tested.

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ABC Nightline ran an interesting program on this issue last year. Terry Moran and Meryl Comer decided to get tested for Alzheimer's disease. Both learned that they were predisposed to Alzheimer's. Terry's test showed a 19 percent predisposition to Alzheimer's. Merly's test result was more devastating at 37 percent. It was gut wrenching watching.

It might be interesting if ABC Nightline did another program with Terry Moran and Meryl Comer to find out a year later how they are feeling and how they changed their lives since receiving the test results. I believe many Alzheimer's caregivers would be interested in learning from their experience.

If you have been investigating gene testing and reading about Alzheimer's and genes you are probably familiar with the APOE ε4 gene. Many people believe if you have the gene you are certain to get Alzheimer's disease. This is simply not true.

You might want to consider this information from the National Institute on Aging:
APOE ε4 occurs in about 40 percent of all people who develop late-onset AD and is present in about 25 to 30 percent of the population. People with AD are more likely to have an APOE ε4 allele than people who do not develop AD. However, many people with AD do not have an APOE ε4 allele.
Forty percent of people that develop late onset Alzheimer's have the gene. So, if you find out you have the gene, or a variant of the gene (allele), you would certainly be concerned. At the minimum, you are at an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Blood tests are available that can identify which APOE alleles a person has, but it is not yet possible to predict who will or will not develop AD. APOE ε4 is only a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, the blood test cannot predict for sure whether a person will develop AD or not.

What you want to know before you take a saliva test for DNA, however, is if the test can the detect the APOE ε4 gene (allele). If it can, you need to ask about the accuracy of the test. These are important considerations before spending money on a gene or DNA test.


You can expect to pay around $400 for a high quality test.

If you don't have the APOE ε4 gene you are still at risk for Alzheimer's disease. Why? If you read the paragraph above only forty percent of the people that develop late onset Alzheimer's have the gene. The other sixty percent don't.

People want to know my opinion on gene testing for Alzheimer's disease.

If you think it will help, I am for it. I am not opposed in anyway to a person learning more about their genetic make up and what diseases they might be predisposed to by birth. One positive of a genetic test is that it might convince the person to start living a healthier lifestyle. To really focus on nutrition. The test could be the catalyst.

I am interested in learning this.
  • If you found out you have the APOE ε4 gene what would you do differently?
  • If you don't have the gene would you be relieved?
  • What would you say to a person that is worried about Alzheimer's disease?
  • What would you suggest they be doing to ward off, or lower the odds of contracting the disease?
  • If you are related to someone with Alzheimer's by birth are you worried about getting Alzheimer's disease?
  • If you are related to someone with Alzheimer's by birth what if anything are you doing differently since you learned of their diagnosis>

Please use the comments box below the article to respond to the above questions.

Bob DeMarco

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room