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Decoding The Prevalence Of Alzheimer’s Disease Among Mexican-Americans

UNT Health Science Center
Sid O'Bryant works in the lab. A blood test developed at UNT Health Science Center detects pre-Alzheimer's disease in Mexican-Americans with 96 percent accuracy.

Studies suggest that Mexican-Americans have an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease. They're about 1.5 times more likely to develop the disease than non-Hispanic white Americans.

Researchers at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth are trying to find out why.

Research underway there is being billed as one of the largest and most comprehensive studies into Mexican-Americans and Alzheimer's to date.

Sid O’Bryantis director of the Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Disease Research Institute on Healthy Aging at UNT Health Science Center. He talked with me about the research

Interview Highlights

How Alzheimer's affects a person: 

It is a devastating disease. It simply erases memories. It begins with things that are closest in time and slowly degrades and erases memory going backwards in time. So people have more difficulty learning new memories, and as it progresses, they forget old memories. That's why it's so devastating because our memories are who we are; they make up our very core.

Why Alzheimer's affects Mexican-Americans differently:

One of the things we think is going on is diabetes. We know diabetes is increased among Mexican-Americans, and the average age of onset Alzheimer's among Mexican-Americans is 10 years younger than non-Hispanic whites. We know diabetes is related to Alzheimer's disease; there's long-standing literature on this. What we're diving into is how things like diabetes, environment, depression are maybe uniquely contributing to memory loss and Alzheimer's among Mexican-Americans.

How the study is being conducted:

We don't recruit from speciality clinics; this is a community-based study. We want to see what the disease looks like in the community, so that we can extrapolate our findings to the community as a whole. We're recruiting one thousand Mexican-Americans, one thousand non-Hispanic whites, and they go through the ringer. They spend a lot of time with us. They do brain scans, testing of memory, thinking, clinical labs, we draw blood for specific types of analysis on proteins, functional exams...We've been building the foundation for this study for almost five years now, and so once the large project was funded, it leveraged all the relationships we already had. It's 2,000 people over the first wave, and then we see all 2,000 again in a second wave. So within the five-year timeframe, we'll do 4,000 visits. 

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.