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Psychological functioning before predictive testing for Huntington's disease: the role of the parental disease, risk perception, and subjective proximity of the disease
  1. Marleen Decruyenaerea,
  2. Gerry Evers-Kieboomsa,
  3. Andrea Boogaertsa,
  4. Jean Jacques Cassimana,
  5. Trees Cloostermansa,
  6. Koen Demyttenaereb,
  7. René Domc,
  8. Jean Pierre Frynsa
  1. aCentre for Human Genetics, UZ Gasthuisberg, University of Leuven, Herestraat 49, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium, bDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Leuven, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium, cDepartment of Neurology, University of Leuven, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium
  1. Professor Evers-Kiebooms


BACKGROUND Psychometric testing of participants in predictive DNA testing for Huntington's disease (HD) has shown that 15% of the subjects at risk for HD had at least mild depression or a high score for general anxiety or both in the pre-test period. The main aim of the study was the delineation of variables associated with pre-test distress of applicants for predictive testing for HD. Based on theoretical considerations, four specific hypotheses were tested regarding the role of (1) the test participant's age at the (perceived) parental onset of HD, (2) the affected parent's sex, (3) the perception of the risk for HD, and (4) the subjective proximity of the disease. Secondly, these four variables were used in multiple regression analyses to select the best predictors of pre- and post-test psychological functioning (one year after the test). Increasing the understanding of pre- and post-test distress is important for developing better counselling and support strategies for test applicants.

METHODS Data were collected by means of clinical interviews and psychometric questionnaires during the pre- and post-test (one year after the test) counselling sessions for predictive testing for HD.

RESULTS We found significant associations of the participant's age at the parental onset, the subjective proximity of the disease onset, and the perceived risk with pre-test psychometric measures of psychological functioning. Multiple regression analyses showed that the best predictors of pre-test functioning were the perceived proximity of the disease onset and its interaction with risk perception. Regarding post-test functioning, none of the proposed variables had a unique contribution beyond that accounted for by pre-test psychological functioning.

CONCLUSIONS Test participants who are close to the perceived age of onset of HD and who have a pessimistic risk perception should be given special attention during pre-test counselling because of their possible negative affective condition at that time. Pre-test psychological measures were the best predictors of post-test distress, irrespective of the test result. Suggestions for future longitudinal research are formulated. This kind of research should enable clinical geneticists and mental health professionals to refine the pre- and post-test counselling strategies for predictive DNA testing, not only for HD, but also for other incurable late onset disorders.

  • Huntington's disease
  • predictive DNA testing
  • psychological distress

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