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Hispanics at Higher Risk for Alzheimer's Disease

Published October 25, 2004 | Updated January 20, 2016

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Duke Health News919-660-1306

According to Duke University Medical Center researchers, the
impact of Alzheimer's disease on Hispanic communities in the
U.S. is serious and getting worse. Not only do Hispanics have a
higher rate of Alzheimer's than non-Latino whites, but onset
occurs at an earlier age.

Several recent studies have shown that African Americans and
Hispanics are far more likely to suffer from the disease than
their Caucasian counterparts. As minority populations age, the
researchers said, these disparities will likely become even
more pronounced.

Stephanie Johnson, Ph.D., neuropsychologist at Duke's
Joseph and Kathleen Bryan
Alzheimer's Disease Research Center
, said Alzheimer's
disease among Hispanics is projected to continue growing at an
alarming rate.

"The Alzheimer's
Association
estimates a growth of 600 percent in the next
several decades," she said. "The numbers are very similar to
those for African Americans, who have the highest prevalence
rate. Approximately 1.3 million Hispanics will have Alzheimer's
disease by the year 2050 if we don't find an effective
cure."

Johnson said Alzheimer's disease is not only more prevalent
among Hispanics, but the age of onset is significantly younger.
A recent study found that early symptoms appear in Hispanics on
average almost seven years before they do in non-Latino
whites.

Part of the problem, according to Johnson, is that minority
groups suffer from a higher rate of diseases that contribute to
the development of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

"It's a complex problem, one that involves both genetic and
environmental factors," she explained. "But we can certainly
attribute some of this disparity to the incidence of chronic
diseases that minority demographics deal with, for example type
2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. All of these
have been related to the development of Alzheimer's disease and
minority groups suffer from a higher rate of these
cardiovascular risk factors."

Johnson believes education and community outreach are
critical to helping prevent and treat the chronic medical
conditions that put Hispanics at higher risk.

"Education has protective effects against Alzheimer's," she
said. "One of the issues Hispanic families have to deal with is
the literacy issue. Many Hispanics who come to this country are
not literate in English. This results in barriers in access to
and utilization of health care."

Johnson promotes lifestyle change as another measure that
has been shown to help protect individuals from developing
Alzheimer's disease. "Regular exercise, a diet rich in leafy
greens and omega-3 fatty acids, and keeping your mind active
can all help shield you from developing dementia and
Alzheimer's disease. What's good for the heart is also good for
the head."

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