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Alzheimer's May Affect African-Americans Differently Says Study

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Alzheimer's disease is a debilitating condition that can cause people to suffer from severe mood swings, language problems and memory loss, but according to new research, the disease affects African-Americans differently from European-Americans.

In a study featured in the journal Neurology, scientists at the Rush University Medical Center in Illinois, led by Dr. Lisa L. Barnes, examined data collected from 122 individuals Rush Alzheimer's Disease Clinical Core.

Out of the total number of participants, 41 of them were African-Americans, while 81 were European-Americans. They were chosen based on the same age, gender and educational level, and they had the same level of severity of the Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers' objective was to identify typical symptoms of Alzheimer's disease in the patients such as tangles and plaques. They also looked for other changes in the patient's brain linked to dementia, such as infarcts and Lewy bodies.

Infarcts in the brain are typically associated with strokes, while Lewy bodies are often linked with Parkinson's disease.

While almost all of the patients observed showed signs of the Alzheimer's disease in their brains, Barnes and her colleagues discovered that only 19.5 percent of African-American participants had the disease as a single pathology for dementia, compared to 42 percent observed among European-Americans.

Around 71 percent of African-Americans instead had the Alzheimer's disease combined with a different type of pathology, which is a figure considerably higher than the 51 percent seen from the European-American participants.

The study also showed that African-Americans suffered from severe and more frequent blood vessel disease.

According to Barnes, the findings provide vital clinical implications regarding the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease.

"Current Alzheimer's drugs primarily target specific Alzheimer's pathology in the brain," Barnes said.

"Given the mixed pattern of the disease that we see in the brains of African-American people, it will be important to develop new treatments that target these other common pathologies, particularly for African-Americans."

Barnes added that it is important to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease in African-American communities in order to convince people to take part in medical studies. Researchers can help engage communities and educate residents on the symptoms of the disease, the value of disease research and the benefits of participating in clinical trials.

The findings of the Rush University Medical Center study are published in the journal Neurology.

Photo: Victor Brezinsky | Flickr 

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