Epidemiology and prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in American Indians: Data from the Strong Heart Study

Alzheimers Dement. 2024 Jun;20(6):4174-4184. doi: 10.1002/alz.13849. Epub 2024 May 15.


Introduction: Accurate epidemiologic estimates for dementia are lacking for American Indians, despite substantive social and health disparities.

Methods: The Strong Heart Study, a population-based cohort of 11 American Indian tribes, conducted detailed cognitive testing and examinations over two visits approximately 7 years apart. An expert panel reviewed case materials for consensus adjudication of cognitive status (intact; mild cognitive impairment [MCI]; dementia; other impaired/not MCI) and probable etiology (Alzheimer's disease [AD], vascular bain injury [VBI], traumatic brain injury [TBI], other).

Results: American Indians aged 70-95 years had 54% cognitive impairment including 10% dementia. VBI and AD were primary etiology approximately equal proportions (>40%). Apolipoprotein (APO) Eε4 carriers were more common among those with dementia (p = 0.040). Plasma pTau, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), and neurofilament light chain (NfL) were higher among those with cognitive impairment, but not amyloid beta (Aβ). Cognitive intact had mean 3MSE 92.2 (SD 6.4) and mean Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) score of 21.3 (SD 3.2).

Discussion: This is the first population-based study to estimate the prevalence of vascular and Alzheimer's dementias in a population-based study of American Indians.

Highlights: The Strong Heart Study is a population-based cohort of American Indian tribes, conducted over 30+ years and three US geographic regions (Northern Plains, Southern Plains, Southwest). Our teams conducted detailed cognitive testing, neurological examination, and brain imaging over two visits approximately 7 years apart. An expert panel reviewed collected materials for consensus-based adjudication of cognitive status (intact; MCI; dementia; other impaired/not MCI) and probable underlying etiology (AD; VBI; TBI; other). In this cohort of American Indians aged 70-95, 54% were adjudicated with cognitive impairment, including approximately 35% MCI and 10% dementia. These data expand on prior reports from studies using electronic health records, which had suggested prevalence, and incidence of dementia in American Indians to be more comparable to the majority population or non-Hispanic White individuals, perhaps due to latent case undercounts in clinical settings. Vascular and neurodegenerative injuries were approximately equally responsible for cognitive impairment, suggesting that reduction of cardiovascular disease is needed for primary prevention. Traumatic injury was more prevalent than in other populations, and common among those in the "other/not MCI" cognitive impairment category. Mean scores for common dementia screening instruments-even among those adjudicated as unimpaired-were relatively low compared to other populations (mean unimpaired 3MSE 92.2, SD 6.4; mean unimpaired MoCA 21.3, SD 3.2), suggesting the need for cultural and environmental adaptation of common screening and evaluation instruments.

Keywords: American Indians; cognition; dementia; epidemiology; health disparities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease* / epidemiology
  • Alzheimer Disease* / ethnology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / epidemiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / ethnology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dementia* / epidemiology
  • Dementia* / ethnology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology