New report shows higher Alzheimer’s prevalence in NW Iowa

DES MOINES — The Alzheimer’s Association is releasing its first-ever nationwide report, offering a county-by-county breakdown of the prevalence of that form of dementia, including in all 99 Iowa counties. According to the report, the average Alzheimer’s prevalence rate in Iowans age 65 and older is 11%.

Brianne Fitzgerald, a senior director with the association’s Iowa chapter, says two rural counties topped the state’s list: “Our highest two counties in Iowa were Monona in western Iowa at 12.6%, and Ringgold in southern Iowa 12.9%.” By comparison, the nation’s highest incidence of Alzheimer’s is nearly four points higher at 16.6% with a three-way tie between Miami-Dade County, Florida; Baltimore City, Maryland; and Bronx County, New York.

None of Iowa’s 99 counties made the national top 20, but the news from the report wasn’t all good.

“Iowa is definitely a dementia desert, meaning, we don’t have enough persons that are working in the field as far as gerontologists are concerned to continue to help our aging population,” Fitzgerald says. “We are concerned about taking care of our elderly as we move forward.”

The report shows what appears to be a higher prevalence for Alzheimer’s in Iowa’s northwestern counties, with lower rates in eastern Iowa. Fitzgerald says they’ll be studying this map carefully.

“For one thing, it’s nice to see this map and say, ‘Okay, well, in our work with public health and other community partners we need to make sure we’re concentrating for sure in these Iowa counties that are of a higher rate,’” Fitzgerald says, “but we need to understand the why behind it and that guides us a little bit more.”

Researchers found the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the east and southeastern regions of the U.S. There are varied levels of Alzheimer’s spread across Iowa, but Fitzgerald says there are theories about why there appears to be a higher prevalence in northwestern Iowa.

“We do know that with this report, a combination of some specific demographic characteristics could explain some of the higher prevalence in some of these counties,” she says, “including the older average age and then possibly higher percentages of black and Hispanic residents.”

Here are the Alzheimer’s prevalence rates for the seven Iowa counties with the highest number of residents age 65 and older:

· Polk (68,200) – 10.5%
· Linn (38,000) – 10.8%
· Scott (29,800) – 10.9%
· Black Hawk (22,900) – 11.1%
· Johnson (19,700) – 10.1%
· Dubuque (18,200) – 11.1%
· Pottawattamie (17,200) – 10.5%

For Iowans who want to learn more, she directs people to the website, “We have so many ways for people to get involved, learn more information,” Fitzgerald says. “We have a 24/7 helpline for people who really want to learn more about the disease and chat with somebody, maybe about their concerns or concerns of a loved one, and that’s 1-800-272-3900.”

It’s estimated there are 66,000 Iowans living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, and another 98,000 Iowans are their caregivers.