A recent study indicates that common risk factors for dementia have a more significant impact on ethnic minorities, highlighting the need for greater efforts to address health disparities.
The worldwide population of adults living with dementia is expected to nearly triple to 153 million by 2050, presenting a substantial and rapidly growing threat to healthcare and social systems worldwide.
While it has long been recognized that major dementia risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, are more prevalent in ethnic minority groups, new research suggests that these risk factors not only occur more frequently but also have a more pronounced impact on their dementia risk compared to white individuals.
This study, published in the journal Plos One, did not provide a definitive explanation for this phenomenon, but it appears that risk factors such as diabetes and obesity exert a more significant influence on some ethnic groups.
The research, led by Naaheed Mukadam of University College London, analyzed health data from 865,674 adults in England between 1997 and 2018. The study found that 12.6% of the cohort developed dementia, with approximately 16% being white, 8.6% South Asian, 12.1% black, and 9.7% from other minority ethnic backgrounds.
The research assessed risk factors associated with dementia, including obesity, diabetes, sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and dyslipidemia (an imbalance of lipids that can contribute to heart disease).
For black individuals, high blood pressure was associated with a higher risk of dementia compared to white individuals, while in South Asian individuals, a higher risk was associated with sleep disorders, diabetes, low HDL cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
In comparison to white patients, high blood pressure had 1.57 times more impact on dementia risk in South Asian individuals and 1.18 times more impact in black individuals, according to the researchers.
The research findings may explain previous observations of greater susceptibility, earlier onset of dementia, and shorter survival after dementia diagnosis in minority ethnic groups.
The authors concluded that tailored dementia prevention strategies considering ethnicity and risk factors are essential to ensure equitable dementia prevention.
David Thomas, the head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, emphasized the importance of understanding the reasons behind this greater impact of risk factors in ethnic communities and called for a national cross-government prevention strategy to address health inequalities.
Another study conducted by UCL suggests that individuals with early Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, experience difficulties in turning while walking. This small study involving around 100 participants, published in Current Biology, found that those with early Alzheimer’s consistently overestimated their turns and had a greater variability in their sense of direction. These navigation difficulties are among the earliest noticeable changes in the disease, providing valuable insights.