Deaths from Alzheimer’s far more common in these places in U.S.

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In a new study from Emory University, researchers found death rates from Alzheimer’s disease are particularly high in the rural United States, highlighting a need for health care resources in traditionally under-served areas.

They that over the past two decades, rural areas in the Southeast have seen the highest death rates from Alzheimer’s, at 274 per 100,000 people.

That’s about twice the rate as seen in urban areas of the mid-Atlantic region, which had the lowest numbers.

This may be because people in rural areas suffer a greater burden of other medical conditions.

The Southeast, for example, has long been known as the nation’s “stroke belt” due to its high rates of stroke, as well as other heart diseases like heart failure.

And those conditions are risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Poorer access to health care in rural areas is also an issue. It means, for one, that people may be less likely to be screened for dementia early in the course of their disease or to get specialist care.

It’s estimated that more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease—a number expected to roughly double in the next 30 years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In the study, the team used data from the federal government’s National Center for Health Statistics. They looked at deaths from Alzheimer’s in different regions and according to the level of urbanization.

Overall, the found deaths from brain disease rose by 88% between 1999 and 2019.

The Mid-Atlantic and New England regions maintained the lowest rates, while the Southeast had the highest for most of the study period. Big cities, meanwhile, had lower death rates than non-metropolitan areas.

Those disparities only increased over time. Researchers suggest that heart disease—along with social and economic disparities, and difficulty accessing health care—likely contribute to the rural-urban divide.

The team says ideally, some cases of dementia can be delayed or prevented. Nothing can be done about aging, but people can improve their heart and overall health through exercise, diet choices and not smoking—which can ultimately benefit the brain.

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The study was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual meeting. One author of the study is Dr. Ambar Kulshreshtha.

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