Jul 27, 2010

Would You Want to Know if Alzheimer's was but a Few Years Away?

By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Today I heard a short portion of a radio show on WBUR. The first part was a discussion of what tests are currently available to diagnose whether a person is likely to have Alzheimer’s a few years down the line.

I learned that there is a test done by Spinal Tap that can identify high levels of amyloid protein in the spinal fluid that would be indicative of future Alzheimer’s disease. Also, a more sensitive test, a PET test, will soon be available for this purpose.

One question that several listeners called in to discuss was whether or not they would want to know that they would soon develop Alzheimer’s. There were sensible answers on both sides of the question.

One teacher said that he has been teaching 30 years and is 59 years old. If he knew he would have Alzheimer’s, he would retire soon and spend his time traveling with his wife. On the other hand, if he knew he was free from Alzheimer’s, he would work until 65 because he would feel he would most likely have lots of time for travel later.

Another man called in whose wife was 58. She already had Alzheimer’s for many years. He said he would not have wanted to know sooner. He said it would have just made the family miserable that many years earlier, realizing what they were going to face.

One man said he would want to know because then he would make sure to live somewhere near a large research hospital where he could get the best care. Several other people said they would want to know so they could make the best financial decisions.

I think it is a difficult choice. Knowing certainly does give a person more options and chances to make better decisions. However, knowing probably does rob the person of additional years that could be spent free of Alzheimer’s and its problems, fears, and indignities.

There is also a question of insurance. What insurance company would want to insure someone that was destined to have Alzheimer’s disease?

What would you choose? Would you want to know if Alzheimer’s was but a few years away?
Max Wallack is a student at Boston University Academy. His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

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Original content Max Wallack, the Alzheimer's Reading Room