Ethnic minorities experience greater effect of dementia risk factors, study suggests

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By Nicola Williams | Friday 13 October 2023

Researchers from the University College London have found that common dementia risk factors may have a more pronounced effect among people from certain ethnicities.

The researchers analysed health records from nearly a million adults. They found that risk factors, like high blood pressure, had a greater impact on dementia risk for South Asian and Black people when compared to White people.

In particular, the study found that:

  • The effect of high blood pressure on dementia risk was greater in Black people than in White people.
  • High blood pressure, obesity, low HDL cholesterol, and sleep disorders had a greater effect in South Asian than in White people.

The findings help to explain previous research, which shows that ethnic minority groups are more likely to develop dementia, and at an earlier age. Ethnic minorities are also more likely to die earlier from the condition.

The researchers, led by Naaheed Mukadam at University College London and funded by Alzheimer’s Society, studied the relationship between risk factors and dementia in health data from between 1997 and 2018 from nearly a million adults in England .

The research team found 12.6% of the cohort developed dementia. About 16% of them were white, 8.6% were south Asian, 12.1% were black and 9.7% were from other minority ethnic groups.

In comparison to White people, the team found that high blood pressure had a 1.57x more impact on black people’s dementia risk and a 1.18x impact on South Asian’s risk.

Writing in the journal PLOS One, the researchers concluded: “We need tailored dementia prevention, taking into account ethnicity and risk-factor profile to ensure dementia prevention is equitable.”

Commenting on the study, David Thomas, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘’It’s a shocking truth that people from ethnic minorities face an increased risk of a number of health conditions, and this impacts their ability to live a healthy life.

“It will be important to understand why this effect is greater,” he added, “as doing so would open up an enormous opportunity to reduce the personal and societal impact of this heartbreaking condition on people from Black and South Asian communities.’’

‘But this is not just a public health problem, it is a political problem too that requires actions from policymakers.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is calling for a national cross-government prevention strategy that tackles health inequalities. “This needs proper funding and must encourage better joint working across all government departments, to truly break the link between an individual’s background and their prospects for a healthy life, including dementia risk,” said Thomas.

To learn more about the social and economic factors influencing dementia risk and what policymakers must do to address them, see our Towards Brain Health Equity – Tackling Inequalities in Dementia Risk report.

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Nicola Williams