Study examines differences in people of diverse backgrounds with Lewy body disease

By Michelle Koidin Jaffee

Doctor Melissa Armstrong and Andrea Kurasz
(From left) Dr. Melissa Armstrong and Andrea Kurasz.

New findings by University of Florida researchers suggest there may be differences in people with Lewy body disease related to racial-ethnic background, such as differences in the proportion of women vs. men diagnosed, cardiovascular risk factors, medication use and performance on cognitive tests.

The new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease highlights a need for further research into whether any such differences stem from disease-related factors and how social or biological factors may impact care of people with Lewy body dementia, the second-most common neurodegenerative dementia.

The research team, led by Melissa Armstrong, M.D., an associate professor of neurology, and doctoral student Andrea Kurasz, examined data from the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center to shed light on characteristics among diverse people with cognitive impairment from Lewy body diseases such as dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson disease. The study included 1,782 white non-Hispanics, 130 African Americans and 122 Hispanics whose data are included in the National Institute on Aging-funded database.

Compared with whites, African Americans and Hispanics in the study were more likely to be female and single, have less educational attainment, report more cardiovascular risk factors and less medication use and perform worse on select cognitive tests, the investigators reported.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first to examine differences in ethnically diverse individuals diagnosed with Lewy body disease,” said Kurasz, a doctoral student in the lab of Glenn Smith, Ph.D., chair of UF’s department of clinical and health psychology. “From a panoramic view, the most significant finding of this study is that ethnoracial differences did exist, and that sociodemographic variables may have influenced observed group differences. Specifically, Hispanics and African Americans reported more negative social determinants of health than white participants.”

One of the most notable findings, she added, was there were significantly more women in the African American and Hispanic group compared with the white group. “This finding contrasts with prior research studies that report Lewy body disease is more common in men,” she said.

The next step in this line of research is to see if the results are similar using a different database or different study group.

“We know there are differences between people from different racial-ethnic backgrounds for some brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease,” Armstrong said. “But whether people from different backgrounds have different experiences of Lewy body dementia is unknown. It’s important to know which factors — including factors like racial/ethnic background — affect a person’s experience of dementia, from getting a diagnosis, to the types of symptoms experienced, to treatment. Understanding what differences exist is an important part of learning more about Lewy body diseases and also in figuring out how to help people with these diagnoses.”