Scientists are creating a blood test for dementia. The test, available in about 2 years, will indicate if a person around age 70 will develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD) within 3 years. This is wonderful news about the advancement of research for a cure. Anyone concerned about developing AD will have a window on the future. Deciding whether to look through the glass won’t be easy.
Dr. Andrew McDonald, Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Senior Pastor, helped me order my thoughts on testing. “We all know we’ll die. Faith gives us the freedom to engage life, even in the face of tragedy. Understand yourself well enough to know what you would do with the answer. If you’d cut yourself off from living,essentially a destructive response, you would be better off not testing. Even if you decide not to test, you can change your mind later.”
Dr. McDonald explained a belief system, such as a religious practice, provides perspective and understanding of ourselves in context of the world, of life and death, of our relationships and of our purpose. Medical Drs. Willcox, Willcox, and Suzuki agree with Dr. McDonald. Their book, “The Okinawa Program,” which examines healthy longevity, discusses the great importance of faith. “Religious involvement provides a ready made means of coping with crisis situations. It is particularly affective when dealing with serious illness and other areas where we have little direct control.”
Consider whether you are strong enough to handle devastating news. “The Longevity Project,” by psychologists Friedman and Martin, shows how people with persistence, motivation, and the support of a spouse or close friend are able to face challenges. Resilience is crucial to managing grave news and continuing to live as well as possible. The mental game requires controlling one’s thoughts and taking charge of oneself. People who can do this are specifically able to “stop neurotic worrying which is connected to catastrophizing, anger and depression.” If worry is disrupting friendships or impairing life, the authors suggest seeking professional help to control it.
A person’s thoughts about the AD test will partly depend on how s/he views these options.
- Make changes to your lifestyle so you could perhaps delay the onset of dementia and improve your quality of life (Lifestyle factors include diet, physical and mental exercise, social connections, and stress handling methods)
- Plan for your future care needs
- Createlegal and medical directives; complete estate planning
- Reduce uncertainty
- Don’t want to know—your philosophy is to allow life to happen, and then handle whatever arises; believe knowing won’t help you live a better life
- Already have your estate planning and legal documents in place, so believe don’t need to know
- Already practice optimal lifestyle, to minimize risks of developing Alzheimer’s, so not interested in the test results.
The AD test in development is a step in the direction of identifying people earlier in the disease’s progression and in finding treatment. Dr. Robert Green, associate director for research in genetics at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, finds, “Most people will not seek out risk information about AD if they are not psychologically prepared to deal with it. [However], many people handle this information quite well, … they change wills…lifestyles. Taking tests is all about actionability.”
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