Health Disparities and Alzheimer’s Disease


three older men drinking coffee

Studies and surveys suggest that certain racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups may be at greater risk than others for cognitive decline and dementia. There may also be gender differences in risk for cognitive decline. Understanding these differences is critical to developing appropriate risk assessments and diagnostic tools and providing the most effective interventions to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease for everyone.

Cognitive Decline in African Americans with MCI

In many communities, African Americans have higher rates of chronic disease than Whites and also higher rates of age-related cognitive decline. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, studied the relationship between racial background and cognitive decline in a sample of 133 older people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) living in communities in Maryland (Lee et al., 2012).

During the 3 years of the study, the average rate of cognitive decline among the African Americans with MCI was significantly higher than it was among the White Americans with MCI. While the reasons for this difference were unclear, the study underscores the importance of cognitive assessment and follow-up for African Americans who show early symptoms of cognitive decline.

Gender and MCI Risk

Men may be at higher risk of developing MCI than women, at least in some populations. A Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, research team compared the rates at which men and women developed MCI during 3 years in more than 1,400 people living in Olmsted County, MN, who were age 70 to 89 and cognitively normal at the start of the study (Roberts et al., 2012).

MCI incidence (the rate of new cases per year) increased among both genders as people aged, but it was higher for men than women in all age groups except the oldest (age 85 to 89 years). The incidence of amnestic MCI (the form that most often precedes Alzheimer’s) was more than double that of nonamnestic MCI. This study suggests that MCI risk factors may differ in men and women, and for amnestic versus nonamnestic MCI.

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