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Racial disparity in dementia risk, experts report

By Sally Robertson, BScJuly 17, 2017

A series of studies presented at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC 2017) has highlighted racial inequities in the risk of dementia.

The studies showed that the number of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias differed between races and also suggested that stress in early life and neighborhood disadvantage contribute to increased dementia risk.

A Wisconsin study showed that just one major stressful event in early life was equated with four years of cognitive aging. The risk effect was greatest among African Americans, who, on average, experienced 60% more of such events than non-Hispanic Whites. Another study looking at dementia risk in states with the highest levels of infant mortality showed that African Americans born in such states were at a 40% higher risk of dementia than African Americans not born in those states and an 80% higher risk than Whites not born in the states.

A third study showed that racial inequities in dementia risk that had previously been found among the younger elderly, also exist among the “oldest-old,” which was defined as 90 years or older. This is the first study to look at racial disparity in the risk of incident dementia among this older population. Compared with oldest-old Asian Americans and Whites, dementia incidence was highest among African Americans and Latinos – which reflected the same pattern of racial disparity observed for the younger elderly.

A fourth study showed that being from a disadvantaged neighborhood may also contribute to the racial disparity in dementia prevalence. Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, says this disadvantage is something governments have been struggling with worldwide and it requires coordinated efforts to address.

“These findings support the need for targeted interventions, whether preventive or service-driven, to help address the gaps we know exist – and for more research,” says Carrillo.

“In addition to research on Alzheimer’s risk factors and biology, the Alzheimer’s Association is particularly interested in increasing understanding of stigma and concern related to Alzheimer’s and other dementias in diverse communities,” she adds.

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