The latest research confirms a known trend on the risk of dementia in Americans across different racial demographics.
The new study, published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed the risk of dementia was almost twice as high for black and Hispanic veterans as it was for white veterans. The study tracked the outcomes of almost two million Americans receiving care from the Veterans Health Administration over a decade, with about 13% of the study’s participants diagnosed with dementia.
In the patients studied (the overwhelming majority of which were men), Hispanic veterans had the age-adjusted dementia incidence rate of the five racial groups studied at 20.7 per 1,000. The second-highest rate was among black veterans at 19.4, followed by 14.2 for American Indian and Alaska Native participants and 12.4 for Asian participants. White veterans had the lowest rate at 11.5 per 1,000. Participants came from VHA facilities all over the United States, and the average age of participants was just under 70 years.
This research, with its large sample size, is further confirmation of a known trend in dementia care. Numbers from the Alzheimer’s Association’s Alzheimer’s Impact Movement published more than two years ago paint a similar picture, with rates of dementia roughly double among black and Hispanic Americans what they are for white Americans.
In an editorial that accompanied the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Gwen Yeo, PhD, a scholar on family and community medicine at Stanford University, wrote that this research sets itself apart from previous studies with its large sample size in the larger discussion about equity in dementia care.
This research sets itself apart from previous studies with its large sample size in the larger discussion about equity in dementia care.
“With the increasing emphasis on diversity and equity in health care and in the context of increasing numbers of individuals with dementia, there is growing interest in knowing how pervasive and equally distributed dementia is among older individuals in racial and ethnic populations in the U.S. and other countries,” wrote Yeo. “[This article] makes an important contribution to that knowledge base, especially by the breadth of its sample of 1.8 million veterans from the national Veterans Health Administration in all regions of the U.S. This report is in contrast to others that have compared rates of dementia in ethnic and racial populations that have been primarily confined to local or regional health care systems or census areas. The fact that the veterans were all cared for in the same national health care system reduces the number of variables that could affect the comparisons.”
The fact that the veterans were all cared for in the same national health care system reduces the number of variables that could affect the comparisons.
The authors noted the need for further research into the sources of the disparities in dementia rates between racial groups. Last month, Seasons spoke with Carl Hill, PhD, MPH, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at the Alzheimer’s Association, who shed some light on the risk factors that could be responsible for these disparities.
“Chronic health conditions associated with higher dementia risk, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, disproportionately affect black and Hispanic populations,” Hill told reporter Alyssa Hui. “Social and environmental disparities including lower levels and quality of education, higher rates of poverty, and greater exposure to adversity and discrimination increase risk for these chronic conditions and risk of dementia in older black Americans.”
For caretakers, it is important to watch for signs and symptoms of dementia in loved ones and to know what to do in the case of a dementia diagnosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately five million Americans have dementia, and that number is expected to almost triple in the next 40 years. Caregivers should be on the lookout for confusion about time and location, difficulty completing familiar tasks, memory loss, and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia.