The US States with the Highest Rates of Alzheimer’s

The US States with the Highest Rates of Alzheimer’s

Almost seven million people in the United States live with Alzheimer’s today – and that’s just how many have been formally diagnosed with this progressive disease. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to almost 13 million. It’s a heartbreaking disease, and scientists are racing to find treatments or even a cure that can ease the pain of so many families who cope with watching a loved one’s cognitive ability decline.

Experts are very interested in where in the country the incidence of Alzheimer’s is high, as it might provide clues that eventually lead to better programs for care. A new study has done just that: scientists looked at the areas of the country where the development of Alzheimer’s disease is highest and made some interesting findings.

The study was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association and presented at the organization’s international conference earlier this summer.1

The Areas that have Higher Rates of Alzheimer’s

The study found that those who live in the eastern and southeast regions of the United States are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. But this report went further, breaking down the information by state and even by county.

The study did this by researching thousands of individuals who participated in the Chicago Health and Aging Project, which they used to assess demographic risk factors such as age, gender, and race. They then mapped those risk factors against the makeup of various counties in the U.S.

This study matters greatly because when legislation or programs for helping those with dementia come about, they almost always start on the local, county, and state level. Knowing where the disease is more prevalent can help community leaders and legislators understand what is happening in their local population and adjust their plans accordingly.

The study also serves as a much better tool than medical records when it comes to getting a sense of where the disease is most prevalent. That’s because many people who have Alzheimer’s are undiagnosed. This is especially true in the early stages, when many family members write off the symptoms as “normal aging.” So a perusal of medical records in those areas won’t paint as accurate of a picture as focusing on the risk factors.

The study found that the highest rate of Alzheimer’s is found in Miami-Dade County in Florida, as well as Baltimore, Maryland and the Bronx in New York City. At the state level, Maryland topped the list, followed by New York and Mississippi.

Fortunately, Maryland is one of those states tackling the problem early on. In 2022, Maryland committed $3.5 million into the state budget specifically for dementia care of residents in the state. That money is intended to bolster the already robust care programs available to those in Maryland on the state and local levels.

While local, state, and federal governments work on what it takes to keep residents safe and secure, you can play a part. On the most local level, right in your home and neighborhood, an emergency button alarm can be an integral part of care. Whether you are active and on the go all the time or have mobility issues that keep you mostly at home, there is a medical alert device that’s just right for you. 

Why Are Alzheimer’s Rates So High in These Areas?

There are many reasons why the study found the highest rates of Alzheimer’s in these areas.

The biggest risk factor is age. The study found that seniors between the ages of 75 and 79 were three times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than those who were between the ages of 65 and 69. The rates among elderly adults who were age 85 and higher jumped dramatically – the rate was about 15 times higher.

Other factors included gender and race. Senior women were 13% more likely to have Alzheimer’s than men of the same age, and Black seniors were more than 2.5 times more likely to develop the disease than White seniors.

Looking at the demographics of the areas at the top of the list for Alzheimer’s prevalence tells the story. Miami-Dade County, for instance, is home to many seniors who have chosen to move to bright, sunny Florida to escape the cold weather during their golden years. That makes the age of the population skew toward the elderly, which naturally drives up the rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s among the population.

Though gender discrepancies aren’t as readily explained, the race discrepancies might be. James Macgill, the assistant commissioner of Baltimore’s health department and the head of the city’s Alzheimer’s program, points out that Baltimore is a “majority Black city, and the root of all this really is the segregation in the city neighborhoods that goes back decades.”2

Over time, the issues that became common in the area – such as lack of access to healthy food and good healthcare – have contributed to chronic diseases that can then increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and related problems. Understanding the problems on a local level can help program organizers better use the resources available to them to help the community address the risk factors that can be adjusted.

What are the Other Factors?

Though race, gender, and age are important risk factors for Alzheimer’s, there are many others that scientists believe could lead to the disease or affect the progression of it. Up to 40% of today’s cases of Alzheimer’s are believed to be linked to risk factors that can be modified – so some of the risk factors on this list could be reduced or even eliminated.

Researchers do know that Alzheimer’s appears when a person develops deposits of beta amyloid in the brain. These are known as amyloid plaques. They appear along with neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. But what cause the plaques and tangles? These are potential reasons: 

·        Smoking. As with anything else in your body, lighting up can have a disastrous effect over time. Those who smoke are at higher risk of almost every health problem, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. The sooner you stop smoking, the better your odds are of living a long, healthy life.

·        Educational attainment. It appears that those with higher levels of educational attainment are less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s. Though scientists aren’t sure why this happens, one theory is that education helps the brain develop more synapses, which boost cognitive reserve. Though formal education is nice, it’s not necessary – you can continue learning on your own well into your golden years through online classes, podcasts, reading, and so much more.

·        Problems with blood flow. Anything that can lead to decreased blood flow in the brain, no matter how slight, can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s. That’s one of the reasons why some chronic conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, can increase your risk of developing the dementia. Keeping those conditions well-controlled can be one key factor in maintaining good blood flow to the brain.

·        Fine particulate air pollutants. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these pollutants – such as you find in wildfire smoke – could increase the risk of developing dementia. Known as PM2.5, these pollutants were linked to dementia even at levels much lower than the current EPA “safe” standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air. In fact, for every increase of 2 micrograms, the risk of dementia jumped by 17%. Protecting yourself from air pollution, including staying inside when the air quality drops or wearing a well-fitted mask when you must go out, could help.3

·        Toxic substances. Many scientists believe that exposure to toxic substances throughout the course of a lifetime can lead to the buildup of plaques in the brain. According to the journal International Psychogeriatrics, substances such as lead, mercury, aluminum, a variety of solvents, and carbon monoxide could all contribute to the disease.4

·        Inflammatory response. Some research has found that certain infections can lead to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, such as the herpes simplex virus. When fighting an infection or other problem, the body’s immune system kicks in with an inflammatory response, which is meant to protect you – however, for some people, that response could lead to further problems.

·        Brain injury. A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can lead to life-long issues, including increased potential for dementia. The most common cause of a TBI is a fall – and falls are especially common among the elderly. A medical alert necklace or pendant with fall detection could help you get assistance right away if you do fall, and that quick response time could mean a better medical outcome.

·        Lack of specific vitamins. It’s clear that diets that emphasize fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can have a positive effect on brain health. But diets that are high in saturated fats have been linked to vascular disease, and the lack of nutrients like B12 has been linked to Alzheimer’s and other problems. A good multivitamin taken every day could help.

Making Healthier Lifestyle Choices

These aren’t the only potential factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Living a healthy lifestyle is the key to preventing many health problems. That includes going to the doctor on a regular basis, taking your medications as directed, getting enough sleep, and engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Adequate stress management, socialization with family and friends, and playing “brain games” to keep your mind sharp are also excellent ideas.

Whether you live in one of the areas where Alzheimer’s is most common or you are in an area where it’s rare, one thing remains the same: seniors and elderly adults need to stay safe and healthy. To that end, senior alert systems with fall detection are there for any reason you might need to reach out for help. From a serious medical emergency to a minor accident, the trained professionals at the monitoring center are standing by 24/7 and know just what to do if you press the panic button.