The dilemma of whether to release genetic information

New studies are suggesting that doctors need to be more cautious when they release genetic information to patients.

A recent article in the American Journal of Psychiatry has examined the effects of informing patients of genetic predispositions to disease on their subsequent cognitive performance. The authors of the article, from the University of Indiana and UC San Diego, found that respondents who were informed of a disposition to Alzheimer’s performed worse on memory tests and had reduced confidence in the current power of their memory. 

In the study, which involved almost 150 participants, some of the patients were given the results of genetic test for Alzheimer’s predisposition, whilst others were tested but not told of their results.

The researchers found that those participants who were informed of their predisposition to Alzheimer’s performed far worse on the tests for objective and subjective memory. The ”informed” participants showed poorer comprehension when asked to recount narratives and recall images. In subjective memory tests they were far more pessimistic about the strength of their current memory.

In addition avoiding the negative psychological effects of the test, the authors of the study suggested doctors bear in mind this phenomenon when assessing whether a patient has Alzheimer’s: ‘Clinicians and researchers should consider patients’ knowledge of their genotype or knowledge of possession of other Alzheimer’s biomarkers when evaluating older adults who may or may not be at risk for developing dementia’.

This article is published by Xavier Symons and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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