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Incidence of Dementia Highest in Black Ethnic Groups – but Timely Diagnosis Lacking

Posted on 09/08/2018

A new study, in which King’s was a collaborating partner, has revealed that the likelihood of dementia is higher among black ethnic groups.

The study, which was led by University College London (UCL), together with the Social Care Workforce Research Unit (SCWRU), based in the Policy Institute at King's, is the first to compare the incidence of dementia diagnosis by ethnicity in any nationally representative sample. Data was taken from The Health Improvement Network primary care database, a sample of 2,511,681 people whose data were collected between 2007-2015.

The researchers found that, of the 66,083 people from the database with a dementia diagnosis, the incidence of dementia was 25 per cent higher for black than white women and 28 per cent higher for black than white men. The incidence of dementia diagnosis for Asian women and men was less likely than for white women and men, by 18 and 12 per cent respectively.

More research is needed into the differing rates of dementia diagnosis by ethnic group: the diagnosis rates may be affected by genetics, physical factors – such as smoking rates and levels of physical exercise – or by personal circumstances, such as levels of educational attainment and financial deprivation. The researchers cannot yet explain the lower rates of dementia diagnosis found among those of Asian descent.

The study, published in Clinical Epidemiology on 8 August, also compared the diagnosis rates by ethnicity to what could be expected in the different groups, as predicted by prior research. The findings indicate that the rates of people receiving a dementia diagnosis may be lower than the actual rates of dementia in particular groups. Black men in particular may be at a higher risk of dementia but less likely to be diagnosed.

Wesley Dowridge, a member of Social Care Workforce Research Unit's 'Service User & Carer Advisory Group' and a steering group member for the study commented that: “As a black carer and one of the Windrush generation, these findings make me think about why black people I know have been reluctant to seek help for memory problems: worries about being treated fairly, or about being put in a care home. This study shows how important it is that messages about the benefits of timely dementia diagnoses reach everyone, especially people from minority ethnic groups who may be more at risk.”

Professor Jill Manthorpe, Director of SCWRU, who was a co-author on the study, commented on the importance of those beyond academia taking on board the study’s findings: “family and friends, as well as professionals such as nurses and social workers, all 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. Faith and community groups can also play a part in making sure local dementia services are available to all.”

The research was conducted by colleagues from UCL, together with SCWRU and Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark. It was funded by The Dunhill Medical Trust.

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