Alzheimer’s May Hit Minorities Especially Hard

August 1, 2004

August 1, 2004

Research presented at a recent international conference on Alzheimer’s disease found that minority groups in the U.S. may be particularly susceptible to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that, on average, Hispanics began to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s nearly seven years earlier than their white counterparts. Another reported that middle-aged blacks are much more likely to suffer from the disease than whites of the same age.

One of those studies, from the University of Pennsylvania, involved people being treated at clinics in New York, Philadelphia, and two towns in California. It found that among Spanish-speaking Hispanics, symptoms of Alzheimer’s first appeared, on average, around age 67. Among whites, symptoms tended to appear much later, around age 73.

“We were continually surprised at the young age,” said Dr. Christopher Clark, associate director of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “It was not uncommon for them to be in their 50s or early 60s.”

In another study, researchers found that among 37,000 men and women living in South Carolina, blacks aged 55 to 64 were more than three times as likely as whites to suffer from Alzheimer’s. Among blacks aged 65 to 84, the rate was more than double.

Researchers cite several possible reasons for the higher rate of Alzheimer’s in minority populations. Dr. James Laditka of the University of South Carolina, for example, noted that blacks tend to have less formal education and greater rates of high blood pressure than their white counterparts. Both factors increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s, research has shown. Higher rates of stress, obesity, and high cholesterol (known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease) as well as poor medical care all more common in minority populations also raise the risk of Alzheimer’s, the researchers said.

“Studies like this should serve as a wake-up call to Congress and the nation,” said James Jackson, of the University of Michigan. “As minority populations get older, we will see a dramatic rise in their incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research funds basic research into the cause, care, and cure of Alzheimer’s disease. Although no cure is yet available, effective treatments are critical for slowing and even reversing the disease. An estimated 4.5 million Americans currently suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to possibly triple in the coming decades. As America’s ethnically diverse population continues to age, the search for a cure becomes ever more critical.

By www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by William J. Netzer, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.


Presentations at the Ninth International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, Philadelphia, PA, July 17 – 22, 2004.


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