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A recent study has found that 54% of older American Indians have cognitive impairment, and 10% have dementia. These numbers are much higher than those seen in the general American population, highlighting a significant health issue. 

“These results underscore that cognitive impairment among elder American Indians is highly prevalent, more than previously thought,” Amy S. Kelley, M.D., deputy director of NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA), said in a press release. “Considering how these new prevalence figures for American Indians are much higher than other groups, as we continue to pursue prevention strategies and treatments, it is imperative that we address health disparities to help us find solutions that will work for all older adults.”

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In the past, studies using medical records suggested that American Indians had similar rates of cognitive problems as non-Hispanic whites. However, this new research used direct surveys and tests, which provided a clearer picture. 

The research was conducted by scientists from the Huntington Medical Research Institutes and the University of Washington School of Medicine. They used data from 397 participants of the HIH-funded Strong Heart Study, which followed Ameican Indian Tribes across several regions over 30 years. This included detailed cognitive tests, neurological exams, and brain imaging over two visits about seven years apart. 

The new figures show higher rates of cognitive impairment in American Indians compared to non-Hispanic whites (12%-21%), Black Americans (22%-25%), and Hispanics/Latinos (20%-28%).

Out of 216 American Indian participants aged 72-95, 35.3% had mild cognitive impairment (MCI), 10.3% had dementia, and 8.8% had other types of cognitive issues. About 45.6% showed no signs of cognitive problems. 

“This research also suggests that vascular risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetes, are known to be modifiable and therefore could be prioritized to potentially reduce the risk of cognitive impairment among American Indians,” said Dallas Anderson, NIA program director and neuroepidemiologist, said in a press release.

The study found that both vascular issues, like those caused by untreated high blood pressure and diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease contribute to dementia in American Indians. Vascular problems were more common than Alzheimer’s in cases of MCI, indicating that treating conditions could help reduce cognitive decline. 

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
About The Author
Kaili Berg
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Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.