Alzheimer's disease is more common in rural Appalachian areas of Ohio than in other rural parts of the state, new research shows.
For the study, the investigators analyzed 11 years of Medicare data, ending in 2017, and found that Alzheimer's rates were 2% to 3% higher in rural Appalachian counties than in other rural counties in Ohio.
The study, published online recently in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, raises a number of concerns, according to the authors.
"Those who live in rural Appalachia, in particular, are both much more disadvantaged on the whole from a socioeconomic perspective and have a higher burden of Alzheimer's disease and related disorders compared to those who live elsewhere. It's a double whammy," said Jeffrey Wing, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State's College of Public Health.
Wing also noted that there are barriers to care in rural Appalachia, particularly specialized care.
"You really need to see a neurologist to get diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and that is likely more challenging for many in Appalachia than it is for people elsewhere in Ohio," Wing said in an Ohio State University news release.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but early diagnosis can delay disease progression, improve a patient's quality of life, and provide an opportunity for patients and caregivers to connect with other supportive resources, according to Wing.
"There aren't many studies that have been able to provide an estimated prevalence of Alzheimer's in geographically diverse populations, and we're hopeful that this information will help illuminate potential needs in Appalachia — that could include more screenings, earlier screenings, and reallocation of medical and support resources," he said.
The researchers also want to identify the factors that might be associated with the higher rate of Alzheimer's in rural Appalachia.
"We're trying to think about some structural and sociodemographic factors that may be driving this, including race and ethnicity, as proxies for racism, education and income," Wing said.