A new study, published in the new issue of American Academy of Neurology, is showing that Alzheimer’s disease causes different changes in the brain depending on if the person if black of white. The new study comes from researchers in the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center.
The changes in the brain, or pathologies, vary in African-Americans than in the white Americans of European decent, and this could be why some people tend to have more severe symptoms than others. Lisa Barnes, the lead investigator of the study works as a Cognitive Neuropsychologist at Rusk. Barnes said that some studies have suggested that Alzheimer’s disease is more common among the older African-American population than European-Americans, and the goal for this study was to see if the brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease were different between the two groups. By looking at the brain and how Alzheimer’s disease changes the brain in different races could lead to more treatment options, and could also help pinpoint strategies for preventing the disease in the first place.
In this study, there were 41 African-Americans with a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia from the memory clinic, and these 41 people had an autopsy of their brains after they had died. The brains of these 41 people were then compared to the brains of 81 European-Americans who were also dead, all of which also had Alzheimer’s dementia with the same level of severity in the disease. The 81 European-Americans were of the same age, sex, and education level. The researchers looked for the typical signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which is tangles and plaques, and also looked at other changes in the brain that could cause dementia, such as infarcts and Lewy bodies. Infarcts are the changes associated with a stroke, and Lewy bodies was associated with Parkinson’s disease or with Lewy body. The researchers had also noted whether or not the people had only one pathology or more than one, and they looked at the small and large blood vessel diseases.
Nearly all of the participants in the study had Alzheimer’s disease in the brain, but only about 50 percent of the European-Americans had pure Alzheimer’s disease pathology. The rest of the participants had an Alzheimer’s disease pathology with either Lewy bodies or infarcts. Less than 25 percent of the African-Americans had pure Alzheimer’s disease pathology, but nearly 75 percent had Alzheimer’s disease pathology mixed in with another pathology. In contrast, only 51 percent of European-Americans had Alzheimer’s disease pathology mixed in with another pathology. The clinical Alzheimer’s disease in African-Americans was more likely to involve pathologies other than the Alzheimer’s disease pathology, and African-Americans had more severe and frequent blood vessel diseases.
Barnes said that “Our study has important clinical implications because it may suggest a need for different types of Alzheimer’s prevention and treatments in African-Americans. Indeed, current Alzheimer’s drugs primarily target specific Alzheimer pathologies in the brain. Given the mixed pattern of disease that we see in African American brains, it will be important to develop new treatments that target these other common pathologies, particularly for African-Americans.”
Research like this is needed because Alzheimer’s disease is still largely an unknown disease, and it’s usually progressive to the point that most treatments available do not slow down or stop the disease. The disease often leads to death since most treatment options are not working against this aggressive disease. By looking at the differences between blacks and whites, there is likely to be more strategies involved in treatment options, since it appears the disease changes the brain and affects the brain differently depending upon race. The researchers and authors of the study hope that more researchers will look into Alzheimer’s disease and also look into the differences between blacks and whites. The more we can find out about how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain, the quicker we can find treatments that will help stop the progressive nature of the disease, and the more lives that can be saved overall if specific strategies and treatments can be implemented on different groups of people.