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I've had gene test but I'd rather not know if I'll get Alzheimer's like my mum; FIONA PHILLIPS ON A NEW HEALTH DILEMMA.

Byline: FIONA PHILLIPS

MY mum was the smiliest, happiest, most loving person I knew. She was great fun and ever so glamorous.

But Alzheimer's robbed her of all that. For seven years I watched my fantastic mum deteriorate in the cruellest way. I didn't see her beautiful smile for years. She was immensely depressed, suffering and so frightened.

When she died last year there was nothing left of the woman we had all known and adored. So when I was given the opportunity to find out whether I am genetically predisposed to the same condition, I faced perhaps the most agonising decision of my life.

I took part in an ITV1 programme to discover which common killers could be hidden in our genes. The Killer In Me was a unique opportunity to look into my future. But while I was eager to find out my susceptibility to heart disease and osteoporosis, when it came to the test for Alzheimer's I was torn.

At first I was very objective, almost detached, from the whole process. It was a simple swab taken from the inside of my mouth. But that information contains your whole future.

When the results became available, the doubts started to set in - they could cast a shadow of misery over the rest of my life.

There are a certain amount of preventative measures you can take for heart disease.

There are cancer treatments that give you a fighting chance of survival. With Alzheimer's there's no hope, no cure, only distressing inevitability. If I were to find out there was a strong likelihood of me getting Alzheimer's, every time I forgot something I'd be terrified that it was here now. Besides, it wasn't just about me. I had to think about my sons and my husband Martin. And if I was predisposed to getting Alzheimer's there was a strong chance my brothers would be too. Was it fair on them to find out?

As I sat in the consulting room, knowing I was within touching distance of learning my fate, I couldn't go through with it. It was too much, too personal.

What would be the point? If I hadn't had first-hand experience of Alzheimer's, I'm sure my decision would have been very different.

I first noticed that my mum wasn't quite right after I had my oldest son in 1999. She came down to London from Wales to help out but it was like having an extra child around the house.

She'd go out and get lost, she was crying a lot and walking into our bedroom at night. She found it difficult to carry out the simplest of tasks.

At first we thought it was depression but it gradually became clear there was much more to it. Looking back now I can see she'd not been herself for a good few years beforehand.

My dad is really suffering now. It's had an awful effect on him and he's very confused.

I couldn't bear to go through what my mum did and I can't stand the thought of my sons having to cope with that sort of pressure and tragedy. If it does happen to me a part of me would be tempted to put an end to it then and there. I wouldn't want to be a burden and I'd never want to merely exist like my mum did for those last few years. There was no quality of life, just sadness for everyone.

I remember being wracked with guilt when we moved her into a home. I'd hate my sons to suffer those sort of emotions. But you can't plan these things.

THE doctors suggested that knowing would make it easier to plan for the future. But Alzheimer's isn't like going on holiday.

Martin and I have sorted out the legal side of things, which will make it easier on those we leave behind.

Naturally I'm hugely curious and it feels very odd to think a few people know my results.

Part of me wants to phone them up and ask them to only tell me if it's good news, but I can't.

According to the rest of my tests, I have a high risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity and hypertension. I should have been killed off long ago!

Thankfully I had a heart scan after getting the results that showed my heart was in better condition than those of 97 per cent of the population.

I've also got a high risk of osteoporosis but tests showed I have the bones of a 20-year-old, which is great news.

Hopefully my lifestyle will help fend off the health dangers my tests revealed.

I still think about Mum every day. And when I do I smile. But I don't regret making my choice. In this case, ignorance is definitely bliss.

The Killer In Me is on ITV1 at 9pm tomorrow.

HOW THEY FIND KILLERS IN YOU

Which illnesses can they test for?

The list includes skin cancer, breast cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease, thrombosis, osteoporosis, prostate cancer and the likelihood of strokes.

Who does the test?

You order a kit to swab your mouth then send it back for testing.

What does it cost?

Charges range from pounds 100 to almost pounds 1,000.

How does it work?

A fraction of the 25,000 or so genes that make up human DNA are tested for common killers. Some firms offer tailor-made services focusing on particular illnesses.

What are the drawbacks?

Some doctors say knowing you have a high risk of suffering a heart attack could cause stress or depression.

Dr Sian Astley, of the European Nutrigenomics Organisation, says: "Not smoking, alcohol in moderation, maintaining an appropriate weight, regular exercise - just keeping those four things in place is far more likely to have an impact on your risk of age-related diseases than your genetic background."

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HAPPY DAYS: Fiona and Mum
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 7, 2007
Words:984
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