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Alzheimer's May Affect Races Differently

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerSeptember 11, 2017

A study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests that African Americans are less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease but more likely to have other forms of dementia. Researchers analyzed 122 brains of people that had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s while living and found that over 70% of the brains belonging to African-Americans showed evidence of other neurodegenerative conditions.

Read more about why Alzheimer’s may affect races differently and learn what it means for researchers fighting the disease.

How Alzheimer’s May Affect Races Differently

According to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, African-Americans are less likely than Caucasians to have Alzheimer’s but are more likely to have other forms of dementia, including Lewy Body dementia.

Published in the medical journal Neurology, researchers analyzed the cadavers of 122 brains that had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s prior to death. All brains suffered from severe late-stage dementia before death. Of those brains, 41 were the brains of African Americans who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and 81 belonged to Caucasians diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

What researchers found was that almost 50% of the Caucasian brains displayed signs of Alzheimer’s alone and that less than 25% of African Americans showed evidence of strictly Alzheimer’s.

They also found that a shocking 71% of the brains belonging to African Americans showed evidence of other neurodegenerative conditions, such as Lewy Body dementia

Lead researcher, Lisa L. Barnes, PhD, acknowledged a potential selection bias, however. As Lewy Body dementia presents itself with more dramatic symptoms than other dementias, it is more likely that people with Lewy Body dementia are likely to seek medical help.

Implications of Findings on Alzheimer’s Research

This study is one of many that suggest that Alzheimer’s and dementia have different effects on different races. Barnes says:

“We were surprised that African Americans were much more likely to have a mixed picture. The underlying brain changes were different, which indicates that they probably had different risk factors.”

Researchers agree that understanding the differences in pathology between races is crucial to finding treatments and cures. Dr. Ezriel Kornel, assistant clinical professor of neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York states:

“It will help to more readily treat individuals who have dementia, by understanding what the cause is. As we come closer to finding answers to what the causes and cures of Alzheimer’s are, those answers might be effective for [Caucasians] but not effective for the [African American] population. You have to look at more than just Alzheimer’s for a significant segment of the population.”

Were you surprised to learn more about how race affects the development of dementia? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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