Researchers from UCL (University College London) studied 436 people over the age of 60 living in the north London borough of Haringey. Of these, 218 had migrated to the UK from a Caribbean island or Guyana. The remaining 218 participants were White and had been born in the UK.
All the study participants were screened to test if they showed signs of cognitive impairment. Those that did were invited for a longer interview, to see if they met the full diagnostic criteria for dementia.
The researchers found that the prevalence of dementia was significantly higher in the African-Caribbean group than the White group, when corrected for age and socioeconomic status. 9.6% of the people in the African-Caribbean Group (21 out of 218) were diagnosed with dementia, compared to only 6.9% (15 out of 218) of people in the White group. In addition, those African-Caribbean people who had dementia were nearly 8 years younger than those from the White group (they had a mean age of 79.1 years compared to 86.9 years).
The most common type of dementia among the participants was Alzheimer’s disease, which was diagnosed in 69% (25 out of the 36). 28% (10 out of the 36) had vascular dementia. Of the 10 people with vascular dementia, 9 were from the African-Caribbean population.
Lead researcher Dr Simon Adelman said: “Our study shows there is an increased prevalence of dementia in older people of African-Caribbean country of birth who are living in the UK. It also suggests that dementia affects African-Caribbean people at younger ages.”
Dr Adelman points out that their study does not explain why rates of dementia are higher in African-Caribbean people – further research is needed to investigate the risk factors. However, he believes the study does have important implications for how we provide care for people with dementia.
Dr Adelman said: “Older Black people in the UK are generally first-generation immigrants, and the largest of these groups are people of African-Caribbean descent. For the first time, many of this group have now reached retirement age. Healthcare staff working in both primary and secondary care need to be aware than dementia may occur more commonly, and at younger ages, in African-Caribbean people than White people. Our study also supports the move towards providing health and social care services based on people’s needs – not just on their age.”
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Adelman S, Blanchard M, Rait G, Leavey G and Livingston G. Prevalence of dementia in African-Caribbean compared with UK-born White older people: two-stage cross-sectional study. British Journal of Psychiatry, epub ahead of print 9 June 2011, doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.086405