• dementia;
  • Alzheimer disease;
  • Parkinson disease;
  • genetics;
  • gerontology

Purpose: To (a) provide an overview of chronic dementing conditions; (b) discuss the etiologic and clinical characteristics of Alzheimer disease (AD) and Parkinson disease (PD) within the framework of the family systems genetic illness model; and (c) to explore opportunities to enhance outcomes through the integration of genomics information and technologies into nursing practice.

Design: An integrated review of the literature, including the organizing construct of the family systems genetic illness model.

Findings: AD and PD are both influenced by genetic and environmental factors; in a small percentage of families, gene mutations are the primary etiologic factor. Genetic testing is an option for some families experiencing early-onset, familial disease. Presymptomatic and diagnostic genetic testing have limited clinical utility for the more common late-onset AD and PD.

Conclusions: The current abilities of healthcare professionals to effectively intervene in people with AD and PD are limited by an incomplete understanding of the biologic basis of these diseases. Advances in genomics research and technology are providing the information and tools necessary to understand the molecular basis of these devastating disorders toward the goal of more specific and effective interventions.