Cheek swab event helps identify Alzheimer’s risk for Barrie seniors

The same cheek swap to determine a person’s genetic risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease can also be used to further research into the prevention.

At a sold-out event at Barrie’s Grace United Church, more than 100 people participated in the cheek swab.

“It’s a testament to how involved people want to be in Alzheimer’s prevention,” Dr. Sharon Cohen, medical director of the Toronto Memory Program, said.

The swab is used to look for the risk factor gene, ApoE-4 (Apolipoprotein E), linked to the disease. Anyone with the identified gene is invited to join a prevention study.

Once swabbed along the inside of a person’s cheek, the swab can be run through a DNA analyzer. At the Toronto Memory Program’s clinic, it’s a Spartan Cube. Cohen said it’s the smallest device in the world able to analyze DNA. Other samples are sent off to a medical lab. The results of the Barrie event from June 26, are available in early July.

“A few years ago we didn’t have anything like this or a means to do the cheek swab,” Cohen said.

“People are always interested in learning about what’s going on in the field,” Cohen said. “And we’re in the era of trying to prevent the disease, not just play catch-up.”

By identifying the ApoE-4 gene, Cohen said, doctors can identify people who qualify for a prevention study.

“ApoE tells us how rapidly one’s symptoms evolve,” Cohen said. “Genetics play a role in many ways including response to treatment and progression of the disease.”

In Canada, about 25,000 new cases are identified annually.

While genetics play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, preventive measures such as proper diet, getting enough sleep, and maintaining physical and social activity are a factor.

“As far as lifestyle goes,” Cohen said. “The earlier one starts the better.”

While prevention studies focus on people over 60, baseline memory testing is available at any age.

Dr. Cohen will hold another cheek swab event at Grace United Church () on July 18, at 3:30 p.m.