May 9, 2005
Latinos, as a group, tend to develop Alzheimer's disease at a younger age compared to non-Latino whites, a new study reports. With Latinos the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, the findings could mean an explosion in the number of older Latinos suffering from Alzheimer's disease in coming decades as the American population continues to grow older.
Researchers at five Alzheimer's research centers across the United States evaluated medical histories from 119 Latino men and women with Alzheimer's disease and compared them with results from 55 non-Latino individuals with the ailment. The Latinos included people living in both the Eastern and Western parts of the country and those of Mexican and Caribbean descent. All those in the study were being treated at special medical centers dedicated to the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Spouses and adult caregivers were questioned about the age at which the disease was first diagnosed, as well as where those affected were born and how many years of formal schooling they had.
On the whole, the Latinos in the study had fewer years of formal education: 7.3 years, versus 11.3 years for the whites. Population studies suggest that having fewer years of schooling increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in old age.
The Latinos were also more likely to have other serious illnesses in addition to Alzheimer's. For example, 39 percent of the Latinos had high blood pressure, compared to 18 percent of the whites. Diabetes was also more common among the Latinos, affecting 22 percent, compared to 13 percent among the whites. Both high blood pressure and diabetes have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's as well.
The research found that the Latinos, as a group, tended to develop Alzheimer's disease at a younger age than the whites. On average, the Latinos were given a diagnosis of Alzheimer's at a mean age of almost 68 years, compared to 73 years for the whites in the study.
The researchers are not sure why the Latinos tended to develop Alzheimer's at a younger age than the whites. They caution that this was a unique group of patients who resided at special medical centers devoted to Alzheimer's disease care. Still, they point out that in coming years, Alzheimer's may place a special burden on the fast-growing Latino population as the U.S. population grows older.
Earlier research has shown that the overall prevalence of Alzheimer's disease in Latinos, as a group, tends to be higher than that in whites. In the current study, there was a higher rate of Alzheimer's among Latinos living in New York City or Houston, Texas, compared to whites living in those cities. The results were reported in the May 2005 issue of the Archives of Neurology, a publication from the American Medical Association.
The findings highlight the urgent need for continued research in the search for a cure for a devastating brain ailment that currently afflicts some 4.5 million Americans, and many more worldwide. Alzheimer's disease can strike people of all ethnic groups and of all age groups. The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation is a leader in the search for a cause and cure for Alzheimer's disease. To learn more or make a donation, visit www.ALZinfo.org.
Christopher M. Clark, MD, Charles DeCarli, MD, Dan Mungas, PhD, et al: "Earlier Onset of Alzheimer Disease Symtoms in Latino Individuals Compared with Anglo Individuals." Archives of Neurology, Volume 62, May 2005, pages 774-778.