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Partnership Research to Focus on Racial Disparity in Alzheimer's Disease

Madison, Wisconsin - Why are African-Americans twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease compared to Caucasians, but much less likely to be diagnosed and treated early in the course of the disease?


A researcher in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health's Division of Geriatrics will lead an investigation into why older African-Americans are not treated for Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in their early stages.


The two-year study will be supported through a $100,000 grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program, which funds research aimed at improving the health of Wisconsin's communities.


According to study leader Dr. Carey Gleason, older African-Americans are nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment (memory loss that often leads to dementia) as older white Americans are. But they don't receive necessary treatment in early stages of either disorder and are often diagnosed later in the course of the illness.


In the first phase of the study, the investigators will conduct interviews with African-Americans and whites, to clarify if there are racial differences in how mild memory loss is perceived and managed by older adults, their families, and primary care providers. In particular, the researchers want to identify barriers that exist to receiving early medical attention for memory loss.


"Perhaps African-Americans have less access to specialized diagnostic services," says Gleason, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. "Maybe families are worried they will embarrass an older family member by pointing out memory loss to medical providers. I want to know if there is a cultural piece concerning how memory loss is identified."


The second phase will investigate outreach, education and screening strategies that would encourage African-Americans to get tested for Alzheimer's disease before it reaches advanced stages.


Gleason says it is important to investigate the African-American population because they are at greater risk for factors known to predispose older adults to Alzheimer's, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.


"For all older adults, and especially for this underserved population, I believe early identification is important because knowledge is power," she says.


Since its inception in 2004, the Wisconsin Partnership Program Education and Research Committee has awarded more than $64 million in grant funding aimed at improving the health and well-being of Wisconsin residents through investments in research, education, prevention practices and interventions, and policy development.


The partnership's Oversight and Advisory Committee has given out an additional $32 million in community grants in Wisconsin.

Date Published: 01/12/2012

News tag(s):  alzheimer's diseaseresearchcarey e gleasonwisconsin partnership

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Last updated: 01/12/2012
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