People of certain ethnic and racial groups could be at a greater risk for dementia, regardless of their geographic region, a significant new study says. Researchers analyzed the dementia rates of nearly 275,000 people in Northern California, across six different groups, and found a racial disparity.
The study, published in the journal, Alzheimer's and Dementia, used a sample of participants with roughly the same racial demographics as the U.S. population. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, which led the study, say the findings are monumental for dementia research as many other studies have had limitations due to the lack of diversity.
They looked at electronic health records of members of the Kaiser Permanente healthcare system for over 14 years and found that blacks, American Indians and Alaskan Natives have a much higher risk for developing dementia after 65 when compared with Asians and Pacific Islanders.
"Most research on inequalities in dementia includes only one to two racial and ethnic groups, primarily whites and blacks,” researcher Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, of the University of California, San Francisco, said in a release. “This is the only research that directly compares dementia for these six racial and ethnic groups, representing the true aging demographic of the United States in a single study population.”
Whites and Latinos fell in the middle of the spectrum, but there was a 13 percentage point variation between the races with the highest and lowest incidences.
Race aside, it's estimated that around one in four people over age 65 will develop dementia in the future. But researchers say these findings can help fuel further work in determining what exactly causes these disparities and what they can do to diminish the risk of certain groups. It could be genetic or due to environmental factors related to lifestyle or culture.
Though the risk for blacks of developing dementia is higher, they're less likely to be diagnosed, some say, because of a stigma in their community surrounding the disease and a decreased willingness to participate in research. Some studies have even shown that dementia affects the brains of blacks differently than whites, which only emphasizes the need for more research.
"This study has major public health implications. If all individuals aged 65 or older had the same rate of dementia as Asian Americans, 190,000 cases of dementia would be prevented annually,” the new study's lead author, Rachel Whitmer, of Kaiser Permanente said.
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