Study: Dementia risks vary widely among ethnic groups

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African-Americans are more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than other ethnicities, while Asian-Americans have the lowest risk of developing dementia among U.S. ethnic groups, according to results of a study published online in  Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

Reducing racial and ethnic disparities regarding the prevalence of dementia is a priority for efforts within healthcare to advance our understanding of Alzheimer’s and other diseases, as evidence suggests that these disparities result from social and behavioral factors.

But investigating these factors is difficult without direct comparisons that better represent the diversity of the population, said lead author Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues.

“No prior research has directly compared dementia incidence in a single population representing the diversity of the United States,” they wrote. “This is problematic because variability in diagnostic criteria can strongly influence estimates and geographic patterns may also contribute to differences across studies”

To better investigate these disparities, the researchers tracked dementia incidence for people over the age of 60 in ethnic populations of American Indians and Alaska Natives, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, whites and Asian-Americans at a major insurance and hospital organization from 2000 through 2013.

They found that African-Americans had the highest risk of developing dementia at a rate of about 27 cases per 1,000 people per year, while American Indians and Alaska natives were next with about 22 cases of dementia per 1,000. Asian-Americans had the lowest risk of any racial population, with an incidence of just 15 cases per 1,000 people annually.

“These findings demonstrate that there are major inequalities in dementia incidence and provide a benchmark for progress toward the NAPA goal of decreasing disparities,” the researchers concluded. “It is unclear if these differences are due to genetic or social and behavior factors, but if social and behavior factors are the primary pathways, these findings suggest substantial reductions in dementia incidence are possible.”