Brain behavior relationships among African Americans, whites, and Hispanics

Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. Oct-Dec 2008;22(4):382-91. doi: 10.1097/wad.0b013e318185e7fe.


There is an increasing racial and ethnic diversity within the elderly population of the United States. Although increased diversity offers unique opportunities to study novel influences on aging and dementia, some aspects of racial and ethnic research have been hampered by the lack of culturally and linguistically consistent testing protocols. Structural brain imaging is commonly used to study the biology of normal aging and cognitive impairment and may therefore serve to explore potential biologic differences of cognitive impairment among racially and ethnically diverse individuals. To test this hypothesis, we recruited a cohort of approximately 400 African American, white, and Hispanic subjects with various degrees of cognitive ability. Each subject was carefully evaluated using standardized diagnostic protocols that included clinical review of brain magnetic resonance image (MRI) to arrive at a clinical diagnosis of normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment or dementia. Each MRI was then independently quantified for measures of brain, white matter hyperintensities, and hippocampal volumes by a technician blind to subject age, sex, ethnicity, race, and diagnostic category. The appearance of infarction on MRI was also rated by examining neurologists. Regression analyses were used to assess associations with various MRI measures across clinical diagnostic categories in relation to racial and ethnic differences. Hispanic subjects were, on average, significantly younger and had less years of education than African Americans or whites. Whites with dementia were significantly older than both African American and Hispanic dementia patients. Highly significant differences in MRI measures were associated with clinical diagnoses for the group as a whole after adjusting for the effects of age, sex, education, race, and ethnicity. Subsequent independent analyses by racial and ethnic status revealed consistent relationships between diagnostic category and MRI measures. Clinical diagnoses were associated with consistent differences in brain structure among a group of racially and ethnically diverse individuals. We believe these results help to validate current diagnostic assessment of individuals across a broad range of racial, ethnic, linguistic, and educational backgrounds. Moreover, interesting and potentially biologically relevant differences were found that might stimulate further research related to the understanding of dementia etiology within an increasingly racially and ethnically diverse population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / ethnology*
  • Aged
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / ethnology*
  • Female
  • Hispanic Americans / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • Neuropsychological Tests