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Why are Alzheimer’s Rates So High Among Latinos?

File / Rich Pedroncelli / AP

File / Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Latinos are California’s fastest-growing ethnic group. They’re also among the most likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. A new five-year study out of UC Davis will investigate why.

The study grew out of a $14.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. It will involve nine other universities and last for five years.

Rates of dementia in Latino adults are about 1.5 times higher than rates in white adults. They are slightly lower than the rates in the African American community.

Early evidence suggests that dementia could be tied to diabetes, which has become prevalent in the Latino population.

“There’s more diabetes in the Latino/ Hispanic population, and we think diabetes does something to the brain through how the sugar is being used,” said Dr. Charles DeCarli, principal investigator on the study. “Sugar is our only energy source for our brain, so if it’s not regulated correctly, it could do something negatively”

DeCarli also suspects a correlation with vascular disease, which can cause a series of small, unnoticeable strokes that take a toll on the brain over time.

The study will use an existing cohort of 16,000 Latino patients from multiple cities. Researchers will give subjects a survey about cognitive function, and then compare brain scans between different groups.

“What we expect to find is vascular disease will have more of an impact on impaired thinking on this group,” he said. “If we can intervene and reduce their risk for dementia, it’s likely to have application across the entire population.”

Edie Yau, director of diversity and inclusion for the Alzheimer’s Association Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter, said there’s a real need for more research on the Latino population and on diverse populations in general.

“If Latinos and African Americans are at fact at greater risk, we ought to include them more in research studies,” Yau said. “Because if it affects these populations differently, different treatments, perhaps medications, the way we look at it may need to be different as well.”


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