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Informed of high Alzheimer's disease risk, people take action

July 22, 2013

Genetic testing to find out who is at a greater risk for certain diseases is often a hot button issue. Do you really want to know if you're predisposed to cancer or Alzheimer's disease? When it comes to the latter, new research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that people who find out they have an Alzheimer's-related gene don't stress, they take positive steps to try to reduce their chances of developing the condition.

Few ill effects
The findings, which were presented at the recent Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Boston, were based on an analysis of nearly 650 subjects at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Each participant underwent genetic testing to see whether they carried the APOe4​ gene. Additionally, researchers took factors such as race, gender and family history into consideration. Eventually, 28 people were placed in a group to be deemed at the highest risk. After three years, they found those in the highest risk group were no more likely to have anxiety, depression and distress. They were also taking positive steps toward prevention. 

"We saw that, following their genetic counseling session, people took positive steps to mitigate their Alzheimer's risk, such as following a healthy diet and exercising," said lead study author Jason Karlawish. "They might also be willing to join an Alzheimer's dementia prevention trial."

Variety of options available
Many of the changes at-risk individuals can make to lower their chances of developing Alzheimer's are traditional parts of a healthy lifestyle for seniors. Maintaining a high level of physical activity is among the best options available. In fact, a recent study performed by researchers at the Ontario Brain Institute found that regular exercise could prevent as many as one in seven Alzheimer's diagnoses. They also found that physically active individuals were about 40 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's. 

A growing concern
Identifying who is the most at-risk for Alzheimer's may have a significant impact on one of the biggest threats to healthy aging. According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than 5 million people in the U.S. have the disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death among the senior population. Its impact is only expected to increase in the coming years, with annual Alzheimer's-related costs rising to $1.2 billion by 2030.