Genetics

A headline in The New York Times (November 16, 2012) announced that “For Alzheimer’s, detection advances outpace treatment options.”  We are given the example of a family who sought out a new brain scan technology that is heralded as a diagnostic breakthrough for detecting Alzheimer’s disease.   These scans show plaques in the brain.  Plaques, in turn, are composed of deposits of amyloid proteins in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These scans are currently available at over 300 hospitals throughout the country.  But there are a number of dilemmas resulting from this technology and its use. Are we creating a tautology between Alzheimer’s disease and plaques?  A tautology is a logical fallacy that constrains our thinking by circular reasoning.  Alzheimer’s is plaques and plaques are Alzheimer’s.  The real issue is diagnosing dementia, which is disability from cognitive decline.  […]

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“My grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease. I am having some trouble finding the words I want but my memory is ok. What are my chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease?” First, the greatest risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease is age. The prevalence for developing Alzheimer’s disease before age 60 is less than 2%. Prevalence increases to less than 15% by age 80 and about 70% by age 100 by some estimates. In short, we are all at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease if we live long enough. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (before age 65) is rare and develops between 30 and 60. In some cases, early onset is familial Alzheimer’s disease with genetic mutations on chromosomes 21, 14, and 1. In these rare cases, the inheritance is referred to as “autosomal dominant.” The offspring in the same generation have a 50/50 chance of […]

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The short answer is no. There are two tests of which I am aware that have received some press. One is a take home test and the other is a genetic test. First, there is a scratch and sniff test. The test is simple; you buy a kit and scratch to see if your sense of smell is adequate. This test is based on the findings that many people with Alzheimer’s disease have noted changes in the senses of taste and smell. This stems from the fact that the short-term memory circuits (i.e., the hippocampus) are next to the brain circuits for taste and smell (i.e., rhinal cortex). Often pathology (e.g., head injury, Alzheimer’s disease) in this region of the brain also may affect the abilities to learn new things, to smell, and/or taste. However, there are many factors other […]

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