There are two news items this week that speak to the heart of changing aging. First, a Alzheimer’s test , researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found an abnormal protein in spinal fluid that can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease with 87% accuracy, even before overt symptoms appear.
Already, people are coming up to me and saying, “Personally, I wouldn’t want to know”. This type of test really opens up a potential “can of worms”, (never mind the required spinal tap). Here’s my take:
In my recent talks, I have led people through a visualization in which they develop a common, controllable but lifelong illness, like diabetes. I ask them how they would feel if, in the course of being diagnosed, (1) the doctor directed all information to their spouse, (2) it was painted as “an incurable illness which will progress over time and probably lead to your death”, (3) the doctor recommended that others begin to think about taking over your daily decisions, and (4) all activities, such as driving and bill paying, became closely scrutinized and potentially usurped by others if any imperfection occurred.
This is the experience that an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can create for the individual – a tragic, declinist view of their future that ultimately leads to their disempowerment and disengagement. What will more early diagnoses do to the lives of thousands of people, if this paradigm is not changed?