Alzheimer's disease (AD) research, treatment, and prevention focus increasingly on developing personalized interventions based on personal genetic, biological, phenotypic data, for early intervention (EI) to limit harm. This approach has much to recommend it, but important ethical and philosophical challenges follow that should be considered, which we analyze here. We argue that advancing understanding of the causes of AD undermines the clarity of the distinction between primary and secondary prevention. This makes it increasingly unclear how primary and secondary categories can be appealed to as the basis for making judgements about what interventions are permissible, and for distinguishing between acceptably vs unacceptably early points in life to intervene. Timely efforts at prevention are vital for limiting harm from AD and given the logic of EI is that, in presence of risk, earlier is better, one might assume that earliest is best. This may or may not be the case; however, the permissibility of intervening in different ways at different stages of life is complex and turns on numerous contextual factors. We consider the particular ethical implications of intervening at different points in the life course, presenting a valuable resource for negotiating clinical and policy implications of EI in AD.
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Dementia, bioethics, brain, epistemology, neuroethics, psychiatry