Impact of Dementia Risk Factors May Vary by Race and Ethnicity, Study Finds

There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that certain health issues, like hypertension, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, can cause a person to be susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, a new study that was published in The PLoS One journal shows this risk factor isn’t “one-size-fits-all” and may impact individuals in different ways based on their race and ethnicity.

Researchers found that not only do more Black and South Asian adults experience certain risk factors for dementia when compared to white people, but the effect of certain risk factors might be more severe.

“This is a really important finding that has not been identified before,” says the lead researcher, Naaheed Mukadam, MD, Doctor of Philosophy research scientist at University College London in England.

Dementia Is a Growing Concern as Populations Age

The term “dementia” refers to the decline of cognition function, which can include things such as being able to consider and remember as well as reason to the point that it can affect the daily activities of a person, according to the National Institute on Aging.

In a number of nations, including that of the United States, skew older and more aging, dementia is likely to become an ever-growing problem. A report published in January by the journal Lancet Public Health predicted that the number of individuals suffering from a type of dementia in the United States will double by 2050, ranging from 5-10 million.

Experts also believe that there are steps people can take to decrease their risk of developing dementia, which can theoretically stop around 40% of cases, according to a report that was released at the end of 2020 by LancetCommission.

The issue is that a lot of studies of modifiable risk factors for developing dementia have been conducted on white people who are of European descent, as per the authors. “It’s crucial that we recognize that prevention and management of health conditions like dementia need to be tailored to the individual and that the same approach may not be suitable for everyone,” declares Mukadam. Mukadam.

Hypertension-Dementia Link Was Strongest in Black and South Asian Adults

To determine the risk factors for dementia and its onset across a variety of groups, researchers used anonymized information taken from U.K. primary care records between 1997 and 2018, studying close to 900,000 people.

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In the two decades between, over 12 percent of the population was diagnosed with dementia. Sixteen percent are white people, nearly 9 percent are people from South Asia (Asian Bengali, Indian, Pakistani) and twelve percent are Black adults (Black British, Black African, Black Caribbean), as well as nearly 10% of adults from other ethnic groups, that includes Chinese, Arab, and other Asian.

The researchers analyzed the data to determine which subjects of the study had risk factors for dementia such as obesity, hypertension, hearing impairment, diabetes drinking, depression, smoking excessively and dyslipidemia (high total cholesterol) and lower levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol) as well as excessive levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) sleep disorders and brain trauma.

The study found that specific risk factors were frequently associated with a greater chance of developing dementia in Black as well as South Asian people than in whites, with a particular focus on heart health.

Other important discoveries included:

  • After taking into account factors like age, gender, education, income, and neighborhood, hypertension (high blood pressure) was associated with a greater risk of developing dementia in Black people compared to white people.
  • Diabetes, obesity, hypertension, low HDL, and sleep disorders have all contributed to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in South Asian people.
  • In comparison to the effects on white people, hypertension was found to have 1.57 times the impact on the risk of dementia for South Asian people and 1.18 times more influence on the risk of developing dementia in Black people.

These findings could explain earlier studies of a higher susceptibility to disease dementia, a faster age, and a shorter duration of survival following diagnosis of dementia in minorities of ethnicity. The authors wrote.

Future Research Could Focus on the ‘Why’ Behind Racial and Ethnic Differences

This research is important both from a social justice as well as an academic perspective, says Kyan Younes, MD, medical assistant researcher and professor at Stanford Medicine in California, who was not part of this study.

“For every scientist you should try to ensure that your findings be generalizable to a large population. If you don’t include minorities that are underserved it is not a good research,” he says.

This study provides a good beginning point to pinpoint the areas where dementia researchers need to be looking at, according to Mukadam.


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