Are Genes to Blame for High Alzheimer’s Rates Among Blacks?

DNA may help explain this racial health disparity. 

Posted: 04/12/2013 12:49 PM EDT

It’s not a secret that African-Americans over 65 are almost twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, a deadly neurological disorder, compared to whites. But the burning question has been “Why?”

A new study believes that our DNA may be the answer.

A team of researchers analyzed over 1,900 African-Americans with Alzheimer’s compared to 3,900 who didn’t have Alzheimer’s and found that those suffering from the disease were more likely to be a carrier for the ABCA7 gene. Blacks who possessed the ABCA7 gene were 1.8 times more likely to develop the neurological disease compared to Blacks who didn’t.

However, there was no increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s among whites that possess the ABCA7 gene, reported CBS News.

So why us?

It’s believed that heart disease and stroke may be linked to Alzheimer’s. Plus, the ABCA7 gene is linked to cholesterol and lipid (fats) in our blood — all factors related to heart disease. Now, given that African-Americans have higher levels of heart disease and high cholesterol, it’s easy to see how all of this may be related. Yet, in a Columbia University press release, Richard Mayeux, one of the study’s authors, admits that, as of now, this relationship has yet to be proven.

“While we need to conduct research to determine whether reducing cholesterol will lower the chance of Alzheimer's in African-Americans, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels always has the benefit of lowering one's risk of heart attack and stroke," he said.

Alzheimer’s disease is extremely devastating for those who suffer from it and for their families.

The disease progresses over time, killing brain cells and causing people to develop severe loss of memory and the ability to do everyday tasks, such as carry on a conversation, get dressed and stand up. It’s important to point out that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of growing older. In its later stages, there are serious complications that arise and it can lead to death.

While there is currently no cure for it, there are treatments to help slow down the process.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia and its warning signs at Alzheimers.org.

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(Photo: Monashee Frantz/Getty Images)

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