People have long sought the ability to see the future by gazing into a crystal ball.
That ability is now a reality — for some aspects of our lives, at least.
Preventing chronic diseases and declining abilities as we age is very important for family caregivers but we don’t always know exactly what we should do to make the most effective changes for our senior loved ones or ourselves.
Should we eat differently or would exercising more be the best strategy for us and our seniors to prevent debilitating disease?
Will it matter if we stop eating eggs every day or drinking sugary drinks whenever we are thirsty?
Are the benefits of changing our behaviors worth the effort?
Can we find out which behaviors would be important for us to change to really impact our aging?
What Can We Learn?
If you could learn what your senior’s future holds with regard to their personal health and well-being — or even your own — would you want to know?
Would you want to know if diabetes, heart disease, or cancer were potentially in your future and your level of risk of developing these diseases, so that you could change the course of your health?
If you knew that there was a great certainty improving your lifestyle behaviors for diet, preventive tactics, and physical activity would could change your health outcomes, would you change your habits to be healthier?
Is getting that information even possible?
Will it break the bank?
Will the results be accurate?
Is it easy to do or convenient?
Genetic testing can now tell us if we have specific markers that show we are at risk for certain chronic diseases. Your genes hold information about you, not just the color of your hair and eyes but also your predisposition to disease.
These screening tests DO NOT diagnose any medical conditions! They simply report whether or not we may be at risk.
Screening of our DNA will help us focus our lifestyle changes and advocate for our own health.
One such genetic test currently on the market is 23 and Me. These are some of the biomarkers for which they screen using your saliva, no blood or needles required:
- Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency
- Hereditary Thrombophilia (harmful blood clotting)
After collecting your saliva in the comfort of your own home using the kit provided, your results will be ready in 6-8 weeks and viewed using your personal online access.
The results they give you include not only the presence or absence of biomarkers for specific conditions, but also describes the lifestyle factors that can influence their development. In addition, it provides education and resources for you to learn more about a particular disease, such as symptoms and treatments.
This information will help you determine which changes you can make to lessen your risk of developing these conditions.
Another screening test 23 and Me will complete is called a wellness report because your genes can influence your health habits. They will give you results about:
- Alcohol Flush Reaction
- Caffeine Consumption
- Deep Sleep
- Genetic Weight
- Lactose Intolerance
- Muscle Composition
- Saturated Fat and Weight
- Sleep Movement
In addition to learning about your genetic predisposition, it gives education you can use to take action. You can also find out if you are carrier for certain diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, PKU, or hearing loss.
23 and Me can also use your DNA to determine your ancestry, which is similar to other testing products on the market.
Will You Be Motivated to Change?
If you or your senior were able to utilize this DNA based genetic testing as a predictor for health risk and the development of chronic health conditions, would this help you make necessary changes to lessen your risk?
Making dietary changes to lower your risk of heart disease or to reduce your weight to prevent diabetes has been ineffective for many people. Most people don’t seem to want to change their habits, even when they are told it can meaningfully improve their health.
Is this the type of information you need in your hands to finally get you making positive health and lifestyle changes?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, genetic testing may still be limited when it comes to providing the data we seek.
They report, despite the many scientific advances in genetics, researchers have only identified a small fraction of the genetic component of most diseases.
They fear using some genetic tests may lead to the misuse of these tests and the potential for physical or psychological harms to the public.
They remind us that they are not diagnostic. But there are many genetic tests for specific rare diseases that are useful and experts recommend using those.
It may be important to remember that genetic screening gives you results which indicate you’re at above-average risk for contracting a disease but don’t guarantee you’ll actually get it.
Also, we need to realize that if the test shows no risk that doesn’t mean that you won’t get it as a result of lifestyle and environmental factors. Your actions can influence your health.
Genetic screening can give false positives or inaccurate data according to some researchers into the entire industry.
We consider this to be one more tool in our health care prevention plan that we can use to guide us into healthier habits and focus our efforts toward actions that may help us in the future — as long as we take it for what it is worth and not hang our hopes and dreams on the results.