Alzheimer's in Minority Populations

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MADISON- African-Americans with relatives affected by Alzheimer's disease are about three times more likely than Caucasians to develop the disease.

But very little is known about the development of Alzheimer's disease in minority populations, many of whom struggle with decreasing access to health care. That is about to change, thanks to a unique partnership headed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

"Like so many other diseases, Alzheimer's affects minority populations disproportionately. Latinos, for example, develop the disease about eight years earlier," said Mark Sager, MD, director of the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH).

The initiative, funded by SMPH and the Helen Bader Foundation and located at the Center for Urban Population Health (CUPH) at Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee, reflects SMPH efforts to bridge health care disparities. SMPH is the first and only medical school to show a commitment to public health by adding it to the school's name.

"We recognize the power of integrating public health approaches, including community outreach and early detection through screening programs, with more conventional medical models. We are also deeply committed to working as partners with community organizations, such as the Helen Bader Foundation, to eliminate the unacceptable disparities in health outcomes that exist among minority populations in Milwaukee," said Robert N. Golden, MD, Dean of SMPH.

The Milwaukee project is an extension of the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer's Prevention (WRAP), a longitudinal study of middle-aged, asymptomatic children of persons with Alzheimer's disease. Since the registry began in 2001, it has enrolled a total of more than 1,200 adults to find early warning signs of the disease even before someone develops symptoms. Sager says that ultimately, WRAP will assist in the development and testing of interventions designed to delay or prevent the onset in at-risk populations.

"So far, 98 percent of WRAP participants have been Caucasian with an education level of 16 years, and 60 percent have an income over $80,000," Sager pointed out as the reason for researching minority populations.

Sager says African-Americans will be the initial population targeted for the outreach project. Minority elders who are receiving care from the Aurora Sinai/Center for Health and Longevity will be offered free home visits from a nurse and a social worker. MAPP also will work with Milwaukee churches and community leaders to identify older African-Americans who are not patients of the Center, but may be showing cognitive impairment and are in need of evaluation.

Dean Golden said the school has committed $250,000 a year for five years to MAPP. The Helen Bader Foundation has allocated $250,000 over three years to recruit and hire an outreach specialist. CUPH will provide research specialists and program managers who will be responsible for developing minority outreach and recruitment programs for WRAP in Milwaukee.

"The Helen Bader Foundation is very pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with Dean Golden, the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health in this important initiative," said Robin Mayrl, vice president of Program Development for the Helen Bader Foundation.

"We are especially gratified that Dean Golden has made such a strong commitment to establishing a Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute office in Milwaukee to insure that older people in communities of color have ready access to early diagnosis and treatment," stated Mayrl.

The Milwaukee-based Helen Bader Foundation supports innovative projects in the U.S. and Israel. Its Alzheimer's and Aging program aims to make Wisconsin a leader, not just in how it addresses the challenges posed by the disease, but in how the Foundation views growing older and the later stages of life. Through an emphasis on program development, education and training, applied research and public policy, the Foundation works to bring hope to families grappling with the disease. More than $30 million in Alzheimer's and Aging grants have been awarded since 1992, including nearly $2.3 million for Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute projects.

Date Published: 05/20/2008

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