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Black people are less likely to receive dementia meds



Black people with dementia are less likely than their White peers to receive cognitive enhancers and other medications for dementia in the outpatient setting, preliminary data from a retrospective study show.

“There have been disparities regarding the use of cognition-enhancing medications in the treatment of dementia described in the literature, and disparities in the use of adjunctive treatments for other neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia described in hospital and nursing home settings,” said study investigator Alice Hawkins, MD, with the department of neurology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. “However, less is known about use of dementia medications that people take at home. Our study found disparities in this area as well,” Dr. Hawkins said.

The findings were released ahead of the study’s scheduled presentation at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

More research needed

The researchers analyzed data on 3,655 Black and 12,885 White patients with a diagnosis of dementia who were seen at Mount Sinai. They evaluated utilization of five medication classes:

  • cholinesterase inhibitors.
  • N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists.
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
  • antipsychotics.
  • benzodiazepines.

They found that Black patients with dementia received cognitive enhancers less often than White patients with dementia (20% vs. 30% for cholinesterase inhibitors; 10% vs. 17% for NMDA antagonists).

Black patients with dementia were also less likely to receive medications for behavioral and psychological symptom management, compared with White peers (24% vs. 40% for SSRIs; 18% vs. 22% for antipsychotics; and 18% vs. 37% for benzodiazepines).

These disparities remained even after controlling for factors such as demographics and insurance coverage.

“Larger systemic forces such as systemic racism, quality of care, and provider bias are harder to pin down, particularly in the medical record, though they all may be playing a role in perpetuating these inequities. More research will be needed to pinpoint all the factors that are contributing to these disparities,” said Dr. Hawkins.

The researchers found Black patients who were referred to a neurologist received cholinesterase inhibitors and NMDA antagonists at rates comparable with White patients. “Therefore, referrals to specialists such as neurologists may decrease the disparities for these prescriptions,” Dr. Hawkins said.

Crucial research

Commenting on the findings, Carl V. Hill, PhD, MPH, Alzheimer’s Association chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, said the study “adds to previous research that points to inequities in the administering of medications for dementia symptoms, and highlights the inequities we know exist in dementia care.”

“Cognitive enhancers and other behavioral/psychological management drugs, while they don’t stop, slow, or cure dementia, can offer relief for some of the challenging symptoms associated with diseases caused by dementia. If people aren’t being appropriately prescribed medications that may offer symptom relief from this challenging disease, it could lead to poorer health outcomes,” said Dr. Hill.

“These data underscore the importance of health disparities research that is crucial in uncovering inequities in dementia treatment, care, and research for Black individuals, as well as all underrepresented populations.

“We must create a society in which the underserved, disproportionately affected, and underrepresented are safe, cared for, and valued. This can be done through enhancing cultural competence in health care settings, improving representation within the health care system, and engaging and building trust with diverse communities,” Dr. Hill said.

The Alzheimer’s Association has partnered with more than 500 diverse community-based groups on disease education programs to ensure families have information and resources to navigate this devastating disease.

The study was supported by the American Academy of Neurology Resident Research Scholarship. Dr. Hawkins and Dr. Hill reported no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on

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