I recently read an article by Gregory Wilcox and Rachel Koff, which was published in the fall 2015 edition of the Journal for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, that explores the use of genetic testing and counselling within the context of elder law.

The article describes the three uses of genetic testing as disease diagnosis, determining carrier status, and predictive testing.  Historically, genetic counsellors were required to rely upon basic Mendelian genetics that did not often reveal whether someone would eventually suffer from a certain delayed-onset disease. Because of recent developments, however, science now allows accuracy in determining whether a person will suffer (or be more likely to suffer) from a variety of medical conditions.  For example, the development of breast and ovarian cancer has been linked to the BRCA1 gene mutation, which can be tested for and discovered in time for adjuvant medical intervention.

Genetic testing is now capable of revealing whether a person may be especially susceptible to conditions that are often associated with aging, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and cancer.  However, to date, there is limited data confirming that individuals who are determined to be at a higher risk of developing a disease like Alzheimer’s actually do receive an eventual diagnosis at higher rates than the general population.  As a result of learning that one is at a higher-than-average risk of developing such a condition, lifestyle changes may be made in an effort to reduce the chances that an increased genetic risk is eventually expressed through the onset of the disease.

Perceived risk of developing a disease that may compromise mental capacity or shorten life expectancy may serve as motivation to obtain assistance in creating comprehensive incapacity and estate plans at an earlier life stage than these considerations might otherwise be made.  As the year ends, no matter current health status or perceived risk of developing certain diseases in the future, it is important to take the time to ensure that incapacity and estate plans are put into place and to keep those plans updated following any material change in family situation.

Happy New Year!

Nick Esterbauer