Rates of dementia diagnosis are higher among black ethnic groups compared to white and Asian groups in the UK, according to researchers from London.
The study, published in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, is the first to compare incidence of dementia diagnosis by ethnicity in any nationally representative sample.
“It is concerning that black people appear to be more at risk of dementia”
Tra My Pham
Researchers from University College London and King’s College London analysed data from 2,511,681 people, including 66,083 who had a dementia diagnosis.
They found that the incidence of dementia diagnosis was 25% higher among black women than white women, and 28% higher among black men than white men.
Asian women and men were 18% and 12% less likely than white women and men, respectively, to have a dementia diagnosis.
More research was needed to understand why people in certain ethnic groups are more likely to develop dementia, said the study authors.
They noted that it could be that risk factors such as education levels, financial deprivation, smoking, physical activity, mental health and some mid-life health outcomes differed between the groups.
“Family and friends, as well as professionals such as nurses and social workers, have a key role to play”
In addition, the highlighted that other research had found that South Asian people may have a lower genetic risk of getting dementia.
Lead study author Dr Claudia Cooper said: “Our new findings may reflect, for example, that there are inequalities in the care people receive to prevent and treat illnesses associated with dementia.
“Or perhaps GPs or patients’ families are reluctant to name dementia in communities where more stigma is associated with a dementia diagnosis,” she said.
The research team also compared the diagnosis rates to what could be expected in the different groups as predicted by prior research.
They found that rates of people receiving a diagnosis may be lower than the actual rates of dementia in certain groups, particularly among black men.
Study co-author Dr Tra My Pham said: “It is concerning that black people appear to be more at risk of dementia but less likely to receive a timely diagnosis.”
“This research adds flesh to the bones of a worrying pattern we’re starting to see in the UK”
Meanwhile, the researchers said they could not yet explain the lower dementia rates they found among people of Asian descent.
Dr Cooper said: “Perhaps British Asians do have a lower risk, or they may only be less likely to be diagnosed when they develop it.
“We’ve previously found that people’s cultural background can influence how willing or unwilling they are to seek help,” she said.
Co-author Professor Jill Manthorpe said she hoped the study findings would be taken on board by both clinicians and patient relatives.
“Family and friends, as well as professionals such as nurses and social workers, have a key role to play in explaining the potential benefits of getting a timely diagnosis and in reducing the fears of talking about dementia,” she said.
Dr Doug Brown
Dr Doug Brown, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This research adds flesh to the bones of a worrying pattern we’re starting to see in the UK.
“Black men are receiving fewer diagnoses than white men, despite prevalence being higher amongst black men,” noted Dr Brown.
“Everyone has the right to know what condition they have and the right to the care and support they need,” he said. “A dementia diagnosis gives people an answer and access to this.”
He added: “It is vital that everyone has equal access to a diagnosis, regardless of their race, gender, age or postcode, and we will continue to build on our work with government to make sure this happens.”