I saw an interesting interview with a doctor the other day. He was discussing the relatively new medical procedure which can actually predict whether you will eventually develop Alzheimer's. By way of a spinal tap, they will check for a specific protein present that accurately determines if this disease will appear. It is extremely rare to have this protein and NOT develop Alzheimer's. This test is appropriate if a person is going to the doctor because they are displaying memory loss symptoms. There can be many other less ominous causes for these symptoms and this test allows the doctor to give the patient a definitive diagnosis. I certainly don't envy the physician who has to tell a patient "yes, you will have full blown Alzheimer's".
Here is the moral dilemma. Should a person who has Alzheimer's in their family history, but is perfectly healthy memory-wise, want to have this test? Unfortunately, researchers are still not close to a cure for this dread disease. Is there a point at which we should pronounce death sentences on people who will then live even their productive years with this heavy cloud over them? Some might say having this foreknowledge would help them live each day better. There are certainly good arguments on both sides. We always hear that early detection is important. That's true for cancer, heart disease, etc, where treatment, lifestyle changes and preventive measures can mean the difference between life and death. Not so here.
As some of you know, I recently lost my brother to Early Onset Alzheimer's. He was less than 60 when his first symptoms appeared. I still remember him describing what it was like when the doctor looked at him and said, "Gary, you have Alzheimer's". Gary faced this awful affliction head on. He never went into denial and was willing to discuss what it meant to him and his family. At each stage, when we had to move him or arrange for additional assistance he cooperated, sometimes begrudgingly, but always knowing it was for the best. At the end stage, when he had to be placed in a nursing facility, he could not abide with the prospect of having to have help with every intimate detail of daily living. Within a month he quit eating and drinking and a week later he was gone. That, to me, is heroic.