Researchers Seek Answers to Alzheimer’s Among African-Americans

 

Each February, our nation celebrates Black History Month – also known as National African American History Month – to recognize the achievements of African-Americans and their significant role in U.S. history. 

Cause for concern – rather than celebration – is that African-Americans are:

According to Lisa L. Barnes, PhD, Director, Rush Center of Excellence on Disparities in HIV and Aging in Chicago, these three facts point to a public health crisis in the making. They also highlight the need for research that mines the underlying, biological reasons for these disparities.

“Although there are a growing number of research studies on Alzheimer’s disease in African-Americans,” Dr. Barnes said, “most focus on understanding the clinical features, such as the symptoms, or identifying risk factors for the disease.”

A recent study – Mixed pathology is more likely in black than white decedents with Alzheimer dementia – studied the underlying biology associated with the individual’s Alzheimer’s. Led by Dr. Barnes and published in the online issue of the American Academy of Neurology medical journal, the study included 41 African-Americans with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia who underwent brain autopsies following death. They were compared to the brains of 81 European-Americans with the same diagnosis as well as similar disease severity, age, sex and education level.

What did Dr. Barnes and her team learn? They found the brains of African-Americans showed more “mixed pathology” than those of the European-Americans. While about 50 percent of the European-Americans had pure Alzheimer’s disease – with no additional pathologies contributing to dementia – less than 25 percent of the African Americans had pure Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, 71 percent of African-Americans had Alzheimer’s disease mixed with another type of pathology, compared to 51 percent of European-Americans. African-Americans also had more frequent and severe blood vessel disease. 

“In addition to blood vessel disease, we found that African-Americans were also more likely to have a type of pathology called Lewy bodies in their brains,” Dr. Barnes said. “We know that African-Americans are more likely to suffer from other chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, and these conditions have been found to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease as well.” 

Additional research is required to learn why Alzheimer’s disease may more complicated for African-Americans. 

“We need more African-Americans to participate in research,” Dr. Barnes said. “The results from this study suggest that African-Americans with clinical Alzheimer’s disease may have a different pattern of pathology in their brains than European-Americans with clinical Alzheimer’s disease. But we would have never known this had African-Americans not participated.”

Researchers Seek Answers to Alzheimer’s Among African-Americans

 

Each February, our nation celebrates Black History Month – also known as National African American History Month – to recognize the achievements of African-Americans and their significant role in U.S. history. 

Cause for concern – rather than celebration – is that African-Americans are:

According to Lisa L. Barnes, PhD, Director, Rush Center of Excellence on Disparities in HIV and Aging in Chicago, these three facts point to a public health crisis in the making. They also highlight the need for research that mines the underlying, biological reasons for these disparities.

“Although there are a growing number of research studies on Alzheimer’s disease in African-Americans,” Dr. Barnes said, “most focus on understanding the clinical features, such as the symptoms, or identifying risk factors for the disease.”

A recent study – Mixed pathology is more likely in black than white decedents with Alzheimer dementia – studied the underlying biology associated with the individual’s Alzheimer’s. Led by Dr. Barnes and published in the online issue of the American Academy of Neurology medical journal, the study included 41 African-Americans with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia who underwent brain autopsies following death. They were compared to the brains of 81 European-Americans with the same diagnosis as well as similar disease severity, age, sex and education level.

What did Dr. Barnes and her team learn? They found the brains of African-Americans showed more “mixed pathology” than those of the European-Americans. While about 50 percent of the European-Americans had pure Alzheimer’s disease – with no additional pathologies contributing to dementia – less than 25 percent of the African Americans had pure Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, 71 percent of African-Americans had Alzheimer’s disease mixed with another type of pathology, compared to 51 percent of European-Americans. African-Americans also had more frequent and severe blood vessel disease. 

“In addition to blood vessel disease, we found that African-Americans were also more likely to have a type of pathology called Lewy bodies in their brains,” Dr. Barnes said. “We know that African-Americans are more likely to suffer from other chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, and these conditions have been found to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease as well.” 

Additional research is required to learn why Alzheimer’s disease may more complicated for African-Americans. 

“We need more African-Americans to participate in research,” Dr. Barnes said. “The results from this study suggest that African-Americans with clinical Alzheimer’s disease may have a different pattern of pathology in their brains than European-Americans with clinical Alzheimer’s disease. But we would have never known this had African-Americans not participated.”