The Hispanic paradox and Alzheimer's disease
Could the traditional lifestyle of rural Costa Ricans reveal how to slow down or prevent Alzheimer’s Disease in the developing world? That’s the goal of EDAD (Epidemiology and the Development of Alzheimer’s Disease), a collaboration of the University of Costa Rica, the Costa Rican Ministry of Health and the University of Kansas, under the direction of David K. Johnson, a geriatric neuropsychologist.
EDAD investigates the Hispanic Paradox in Costa Rica, where older Costa Ricans living a more traditional (less modern) lifestyle age better than their brothers and sisters who live in the cities.
“This challenges most of what we know about morbidity and mortality,” said Johnson. “Less modern also means fewer doctors, less access to medical facilities, more food insecurity and more exposure to tropical disease. These rural older adults must engage in lifestyles that compensate for all of the risks they are exposed to.”
Lower and lower-middle income Costa Ricans in rural areas walk more and don’t smoke. In preliminary findings comparing 150 rural and 150 urban residents, these appear to be the two distinguishing features that promote greater cardiovascular health—the protective factor in healthy brain aging, Johnson said.
“Our research investigates the critical interaction of cardiovascular risk factors with lifestyle factors in a unique and understudied population of Latin Americans.”
Knowing more about this phenomenon could help address a developing global public health tsunami: Life expectancy has skyrocketed in lower and middle-income nations, and so will the unprecedented growth of elderly populations and the subsequent increase in age-related neurological disorders.
EDAD is part of an international effort funded by the Global Brain Disorders Research program at the NIH Fogarty International Center to build research capacity and partnerships between U.S. scientists and those in other countries.
In this case, the project extends the clinical research infrastructure of KU’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center to Costa Rica to cultivate needed Latin American expertise that will sustain a prospective memory and aging study in that country.
“As this project matures, it will serve as a foundation for a center of Hispanic American research methods,” said Johnson.