C2N Diagnostics and Quanterix already offer similar blood tests that doctors can prescribe for patients with Alzheimer’s symptoms, but Quest is the first to offer such tests directly to consumers. Quest asks buyers to tick the box agreeing that they meet at least one of the listed risk factors, such as a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, or current memory loss. But the company does not confirm that the test is medically appropriate for a person.
Doctors usually consider several factors to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease: patient’s medical history, cognitive and functional assessments, brain imaging scanners And lumbar punctures or blood analysis. Thus, a person who takes the Quest test and receives a high-risk result will need further testing to determine if they actually have Alzheimer’s disease. “When people ask for this test, the next steps are not inconsequential,” says Joseph Ross, general practitioner and health policy researcher at the Yale School of Medicine.
How can you reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s?
There are steps a person can take to reduce their risk of developing the disease: maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, not smoking, not drinking excessive alcohol, and controlling blood sugar and blood pressure. But this is medical advice doctors are already giving to patients, regardless of Alzheimer’s risk. For some people, knowing that they are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s can encourage them to adopt healthier habits. But for others, the same results can cause stress and anxiety.
In some cases, this can lead to cognitively healthy people taking tests and doctor visits that may not be necessary. In the worst case, these healthy people may even fear for decades a disease they will never develop. “A good rule of thumb is that you should never test something for which there is no cure,” advises Ross.
However, for people experiencing severe memory problems, the test may encourage them to seek early diagnosis, giving them a better chance of accessing new drugs aimed at slowing the progression of the disease. Until recently, all experimental drugs for Alzheimer’s disease failed to cope with this task. Newer antibodies that bind to amyloid are more promising, although their effects appear to be modest and may have serious side effects. One of these drugs, lekanemab, received accelerated approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in January. Another drug, donanemab, is awaiting agency approval. The drugs are intended for people in the early stages of the disease with confirmed amyloid plaques.
Jason Carlavish, co-director of the Penn Center for Remembrance at the University of Pennsylvania, describes Alzheimer’s as a “life-changing event” because illness changes thoughts, feelings, behavior and personality someone. He believes consumers should seriously consider how they might be affected by test results. “The question they need to ask themselves is: are they really ready to find out?” he says.