Who's most likely to develop Alzheimer's and why? Researchers recruit diverse groups for studies
Researchers are beginning to discover how your genes, medical conditions, and environment affect your chances of getting Alzheimer's disease.
Now, they want to know more about how being Black or Hispanic factors in and they are using the rich resources in South Florida to discover who is at risk and why.
University of Miami researcher Brian Kunkle has a study underway to look at whether lifestyle and family history in minority populations differently affect future risk for the disease. (Sign up at hihg.org.)
"We know that some genetic risk factors for Alzheimer's differ by ancestry, but more research is needed," Gunkle said.
So far, what is known is that older Latinos are about one-and-a-half times as likely as older whites to have Alzheimer's and other dementias, while older African-Americans are about twice as likely to have the disease as older whites.
Gunkle said Blacks and Hispanics haven't been studied enough to know exactly why they are at higher risk. "Studying these populations will allow us to understand the genetics of Alzheimer's better," he said. "Knowing what factors play a role could help with preventative strategies and drug treatments."
Something as simple as diet or lack of access to health care in minority populations could play a role in whether someone develops Alzheimer's, he said.
Gunkle and other South Florida researchers say recruiting diverse groups for Alzheimer's studies is challenging, but important.
A criticism of the new Alzheimer's drug, Aduhelm, is that only 0.6% of participants in the trials were Black, and 3% were Hispanic. In Nature, Lisa Barnes, a cognitive neuropsychologist, wrote that without studies that resemble the actual population of people living with Alzheimer's, scientists will never reach a complete understanding of racial disparities of the disease.
"This makes it impossible to develop treatments that work for everyone," Barnes wrote.
At Florida Atlantic University, researchers Dr. Idaly Velez-Uribe and Dr. Monica Roselli recently received state funding to study whether there are enough bilingual researchers to diagnose Hispanics "in a culturally sensitive manner" and pick up on early signs of Alzheimer's and dementia. They, too, are recruiting for their study.
So far, Alzheimer risk factors identified mostly from studies of white population include:
- Age (After 65, the risk of Alzheimer's doubles every five years)
- Family history (Having a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer's makes you more likely to develop the disease)
- Genetics (Certain genes increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's)
- Brain and heart health (Vascular disease could put you at greater risk)
- Sex (women's risk of Alzheimer's disease is greater than men's)
About 580,000 people in Florida are living with Alzheimer's disease and as the population of the state ages, that number is projected to increase to 720,000 by 2025.
"We need to continually educate all populations that there are services available," said Charles J. Fuschillo Jr., Alzheimer's Foundation of America's President & CEO. "Our helpline and chat system allow people to communicate with us in up to 90 languages. We want to assure language is not a barrier to seeking help."
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