(CN) – The wide availability of DNA testing has been a boon for people with an interest in their ethnic heritage or those who need to know more about their genetic risk to certain diseases. But while more Americans in their 50s and 60s are interested in genetic testing, many fear that learning too much could make them worry too much about the future, according to a new poll.
Only 1 in 10 Americans polled between the ages of 50 and 64 has taken a genetic test offered by companies like 23AndMe or AncestryDNA. Just 1 in 20 has taken one ordered by a doctor.
Nonetheless, a majority of those polled expressed interest in taking genetic tests, either for medical reasons or because of interest in their ancestry.
The University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy conducted the study on nearly 1,000 adults, and gauged their experience and interest with genetic testing.
Respondents were asked about their interest in taking tests to find out their risks for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and macular degeneration, with about two-thirds showing some interest in the tests.
“Compared to previous findings in the general adult population, this age group appears to be a little more lukewarm about their views of the benefits versus the risks of genetic testing overall,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, who worked on the poll.
“The majority said they might be interested in knowing their risk for specific conditions, but on other hand they were worried about potential psychological distress from the results.”
While people may be interested in taking DNA tests to learn about their ethnic heritage, they may still end up being “blindsided” by information about their susceptibility to diseases like Alzheimer’s, Roberts said.
He also noted the differences between medically ordered or suggested genetic tests and the direct-to-consumer ones. A genetic counselor is often available to help a patient interpret the results of a genetic tests, while the consumer tests often do not have any such service.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved direct-to-consumer genetic testing for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s last year. The team that conducted the poll is optimistic that new advances in testing could lead to early detection and better treatments.
“Before, there wasn’t much we could recommend, but now there are more research opportunities to take part in, and we know more about health behaviors earlier in life that can affect the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia later in life,” said Roberts, who specializes in testing for that disease.
Nearly two out of three respondents said they would be more interested in testing if their insurance covered it or if it was for a disease they knew ran in their families.
But about 1 in 10 said they have been tested to find out more about their health or their risk of a certain disease.
“We’re living in an era when advances like DNA testing are providing an amazing amount of useful health information,” said Alison Bryant, the senior vice president of research for AARP.
“As genetic testing becomes even more sophisticated and common among older adults, the challenge will be to ensure that people understand the benefits and limitations of these tests.”