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Q: Can a genetic test like 23andMe tell me whether I will develop Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's is one of the most feared diseases in the U.S. and as such, there is an incredible amount of curiosity and concern about our level of risk. With the recent rise in popularity of at-home genetic testing, many people are looking to these kits to ease their worries.

It is true that some of these at-home health assessments can tell you if you carry APOE-e4, a gene mutation that is associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. But the fact is that having one or two copies of APOE-e4 only provides very general information about increased Alzheimer's risk. Having the risk gene present in your test findings doesn't definitively determine whether or not you'll develop Alzheimer's. In fact, there is no single test that can predict with certainty who will develop it. The genetics of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (such as frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body dementia, etc.) varies from one disorder to another.

A person genuinely concerned about their dementia risk, or the risk of a loved one, based on family history, should consider making lifestyle changes regardless of genetic status. Growing evidence indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits like exercising regularly, eating healthy for your brain, and staying engaged socially.

The best way to reduce anxiety about any health concern is to educate yourself with the facts. Support groups are a reliable resource for education as well as emotional support. The Alzheimer's Association Aloha Chapter offers a free monthly support group for caregivers and people living with Alzheimer's or a related dementia. The group meets every third Tuesday of the month in the Nutrition Education Room (in Cafeteria) at Maui Memorial Medical Center from 5:30 to 7 p.m. For questions or to RSVP, contact Christine Spencer at 808.591.2771, ext. 8235.