Alzheimer's Disease Research

Study Reveals Higher Alzheimer's Risk in African Americans and Hispanics with Psychiatric Symptoms: New Research Sheds Light

Having certain psychiatric symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and agitation increases Alzheimer’s risk for all people, but a new study found the risk was higher across African Americans and Hispanics.
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Reviewed by Sharyn Rossi, PhD 

It’s known that certain racial and ethnic groups such as African Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Now, a unique BrightFocus-funded study has confirmed that African Americans and Hispanics with certain psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, apathy/indifference, and irritability have a higher risk of developing cognitive impairment, often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. 

The study, led by BrightFocus Alzheimer’s Disease Research grantee Ganesh Babulal, MSCI, OTD, PhD, and published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, included nearly 7,000 participants of various races and ethnicities.  

It looked at 12 neuropsychiatric symptoms, also called behavioral or psychological symptoms, that are risk factors for cognitive impairment: delusions, hallucinations, agitation/aggression, dysphoria/depression, anxiety, euphoria/elation, apathy/indifference, disinhibition, irritability/lability, aberrant motor behavior, night-time behavior, and appetite/eating. 

The researchers found that compared to non-Hispanic white Americans, African Americans with these symptoms are more likely to progress to cognitive impairment, followed by Hispanic and then Asian participants. 

By recognizing and addressing this disparity through screenings, the researchers said, steps can be taken to close the gap. 

About the research findings 

Using a data repository from the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center, Dr. Babulal’s team searched for studies investigating the risk associated with neuropsychiatric symptoms and progression to cognitive impairment, and whether race made a difference. 

The participants, who were not cognitively impaired at the start of the study, were followed for over 14 years. 

African Americans had an increased risk of progressing to cognitive impairment in all 12 symptom models, Hispanics in six, and Asian Americans in two. Having neuropsychiatric symptoms increases Alzheimer’s risk for all people, the researchers said, but the risk was higher across those ethnic and racial groups. 

What the research tells us 

The researchers speculated that African Americans and Hispanics may not recognize symptoms or seek treatment as early as their white counterparts, which delays a potential diagnosis and potential treatment. 

They pointed out that the responsibility to seek health care does not lie solely with an individual or their family. Rather, it is a complex interaction between factors such as culture, health care access, affordability, trust in medical institutions, stigma, and awareness, among others. 

Social and environmental factors such as education, socioeconomic status, racism, discrimination, outdoor and indoor pollution, and living conditions, they said, also increase the risk for both neuropsychiatric symptoms and cognitive impairment. 

Further, African Americans have twice the risk of dementia compared to non-Hispanic white Americans, and Hispanic Americans have one and a half times the risk. 

Looking to the future 

By 2050, the number of Americans living with dementia is expected to nearly double to 12.7 million, with costs rising to $1.5 trillion. Dementia takes a significant toll on individuals, families, and society at large. 

Increased awareness and screening for cognitive decline in minority groups may help with earlier diagnosis. In addition, representation in clinical trials needs to be greatly increased so that we can better understand and treat every population.  

The researchers noted that with the increasing diversity among racial and ethnic groups, the U.S. will also see a population increase in African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian over the next three decades, while white population growth is expected to decrease.  

Earlier diagnosis of neuropsychiatric symptoms and cognitive impairment can lead to earlier treatment that may slow the progression toward dementia. Leqembi, an anti-amyloid drug that’s received full FDA approval, and other drugs in the treatment pipeline have been shown to reduce cognitive decline at a historic rate in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, providing hope for the millions at risk for cognitive decline and dementia.  


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About the Author

Lisa Catanese

Lisa Catanese

Lisa Catanese, ELS, has been a medical writer for more than 20 years. Through her company, Blue Blaze Communications LLC, she has written content for websites, hospitals, magazines, pharmaceutical companies, and medical education companies, and her writing has won 18 national and international awards. She is certified as an editor in the life sciences and is a member of the American Medical Writers Association.

About BrightFocus Foundation

BrightFocus Foundation is a premier global nonprofit funder of research to defeat Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Through its flagship research programs — Alzheimer’s Disease Research, National Glaucoma Research, and Macular Degeneration Research — the Foundation has awarded nearly $300 million in groundbreaking research funding over the past 50 years and shares the latest research findings, expert information, and resources to empower the millions impacted by these devastating diseases. Learn more at


The information provided in this section is a public service of BrightFocus Foundation, should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we make efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research.    

Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.

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