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Updated 10:00 AM July 27, 2009
 

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  Research
Knowing Alzheimer's risk doesn't lead to long-term depression

When people learn they are predisposed to Alzheimer's disease, any depression or anxiety is not long lasting, a new study indicates.

These findings help address a longstanding debate about whether learning such information might cause lasting psychological harm, at least among those with a family history of Alzheimer's disease, says Scott Roberts, a researcher at the School of Public Health and co-author of the study findings, which appear in the New England Journal of Medicine.

People with a family history already are at higher risk, which is further increased if they also carry a certain version of the gene called Apolipoprotein E (APOE).

Roberts and colleagues at Boston University, Case Western Reserve University, and Cornell Medical College tested 162 people with a parent with Alzheimer's, which means their risk for developing the disease by age 85 is about 30-35 percent, compared with the general population risk of about 10-15 percent.

After an educational session about Alzheimer's and genetic testing, researchers tested people for their APOE genotype to learn if they carried the genetic variant. The presence of the gene increases the risk for those with a family history of Alzheimer's to more than 50 percent. For subjects who did agree to the test, specially trained genetic counselors then disclosed results and researchers followed participants over one year to determine the impact of risk information.

The researchers measured anxiety, depression and test-related distress after six weeks, six months and one year. Test-related distress did increase slightly at six weeks for people with the risk-increasing form of the gene, but not at six months or one year, Roberts says. Anxiety and depression levels remained stable.

Roberts conducted this research while at Boston University. He came to the U-M in 2006.

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