Faster, cheaper tests for Alzheimer’s could improve care for people of color
A recent Mayo Clinic study points to potential breakthroughs in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease through blood tests.
Black people are twice as likely as whites to develop dementia, according to recent data from the National Institutes of Health. Yet, they are 35 percent less likely than the white population to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common cause of dementia.
“The reason is, they either don’t have access to medical care or are less likely to see a doctor,” said Minerva Carrasquillo, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mayo Clinic Florida, and one of the study's lead researchers.
Blood tests could offer a cheaper and easier alternative to current options for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, she said.
Dr. Shauna Yuan, a neurologist at M Health Fairview in St. Louis Park, is all too familiar with the challenges of treating Alzheimer’s patients of color. One of the biggest hurdles in treating patients is getting information about care through to their caregivers and families, she said.
There are several barriers to receiving cultural-specific care for Alzheimer’s patients from communities of color, she said. These include: patients often have limited resources, they rely on an adult child or family member as their caregiver, and caregivers are frequently stretched thin with their other responsibilities.
Manka Nkimbeng, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, leads the Immigrant Memory Collaborative, a project that seeks to improve African immigrants’ understanding and treatment of dementia.
“African immigrants don’t recognize dementia as a medical problem,” Nkimbeng said. “To many, dementia is a normal problem of older age. Getting people to understand that dementia is not a natural pattern of aging is the first step to strengthening community education about dementia."
Carrasquillo said that in the most optimistic scenario, within five years a blood test could be as accurate in detecting Alzheimer's as a PET scan and spinal tap. If that happens, it would mark a significant shift in the equitable treatment of the disease, according to Carrasquillo and other researchers.
Originally published in Sahan Journal