To know or not to know: ethical issues related to early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.
AbstractIn Alzheimer's disease (AD), pathological processes start in the brain long before clinical dementia. Biomarkers reflecting brain alterations may therefore indicate disease at an early stage, enabling early diagnosis. This raises several ethical questions and the potential benefits of early diagnosis must be weighted against possible disadvantages. Currently, there are few strong arguments favouring early diagnosis, due to the lack of disease modifying therapy. Also, available diagnostic methods risk erroneous classifications, with potentially grave consequences. However, a possible benefit of early diagnosis even without disease modifying therapy is that it may enable early decision making when patients still have full decision competence, avoiding problems of hypothetical consents. It may also help identifying patients with cognitive dysfunction secondary to other diseases that may be responsive to treatment already today.