While we have known about some of the genes thought to be responsible for Late Onset Alzheimer's Disease, it's only been recently that some hints of the potential genetics that may influence Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease, and it is exciting...
The gene is called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). It
helps to keep our brains healthy and functioning, especially the memory
centers of the brain where it is responsible for learning and memory. Research found that there is less BDNF in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
This might seem significant, but by itself it was not. Only when
genetic findings were combined with brain imaging did it become clear
that scientists had landed on something important.
The most important part was the fact that they saw changes in the
brains of patients with a specific variation of the BDNF gene - - before
difficulties were noticeable upon testing.
Let me say that again another way - the changes that are seen in the
post-mortem (after death) brains of Alzheimer's patients were found when
imaging was done on live carriers of the BDNF variant BEFORE cognitive changes had occurred.
This brings up many difficult yet exciting points:
Before, Alzheimer's Disease couldn't be diagnosed until significant
changes had already occurred. Now, we can see it before any symptoms
appear and early diagnosis is possible. This may lead to earlier
treatment and potentially better outcomes for these patients. BUT they
must receive testing and imaging which is expensive and may not be seen
as important by physicians. And how do we decide who should be tested and who not to test?
The benefits to patients are un-measurable. The benefits to society
are enormous. Should patients be identified and treated earlier, it is
estimated in one article to potentially save the health care system of Canada around $15 Billion over the next 10 years.
Would you want to be tested to see if Alzheimer's Disease is in your future?
In some of the communities I interact with, the answers are very
mixed. Because of the discussions that have taken place re: this topic,
I've created a discussion in the Alzheimer's Disease Group where we can
talk about making these types of choices, and how we can present this
topic to our communities in a way that stimulates conversation without
scaring potential patients and caregivers.
I was tested for Late Onset Alzheimer's. In that discussion I tell a
little of my story and show you the results of my testing and what the
lab said my odds are for becoming an Alzheimer's patient later in my