Study to determine race role in Alzheimer's disease

April 7, 2014 (CHICAGO)

There is a call for more African-Americans to take part in a study looking into the disease at Rush University Medical Center.

Research shows the risk for developing Alzheimer's disease may be two to three times greater among the African-American population than in the white population.

However, that is based on a few large studies that do not include enough African-American participants. Researchers are calling on more African Americans to take part in Alzheimer's studies.

Seventy-nine-year-old Thomas Webb is being tested for Alzheimer's disease. So far, the South Side resident has been told he doesn't have any signs.

"Sometimes you forget things and right away you think you have Alzheimer's. I wanted to get in study to find out where I'm at," he said.

Webb is participating in a long-term study at Rush University Medical Center. The research is studying how Alzheimer's progresses in African-Americans.

Dr. Lisa Barnes says based on a few large studies, the disease is more common in the African American population than the white population. However, she said over a period of time, the disease seems to be progressing at the same rate for both racial groups.

"The diagnosis is based largely on testing on cognitive functioning tests and African-Americans, older African Americans, are not performing on those tests, for many reasons," Dr. Barnes said.

She said the tests are highly correlated with education. Many older African-Americans grew up in a time without access to a quality education. Dr. Barnes says research is the only way to find out if the African-American population is really at a greater risk for developing Alzheimer's.

The problem is that not nearly enough African-Americans participate in studies.

"I think most of them are skeptical about what the purpose of it is because of past experience," Webb said.

"We need to raise awareness that Alzheimer's is an issue, it's not just normal aging," said Dr. Barnes. "I think a lot of older people, but African Americans in particular think that you are supposed to lose memory as you get older and we know that's not the case. This is a real disease."

Dr. Barnes says it's time for researchers to pro-actively go into communities to raise awareness about the importance of studies.

In addition, she strongly urges Alzheimer's patients to donate their brains after death. She says almost all the information about the brain and Alzheimer's disease is based on whites.

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