Addressing Alzheimer’s Disparities During Black History Month

Ray Burow avatar

by Ray Burow |

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People from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Nearly 6 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by the year 2060, that number is expected to increase to 14 million.

Yet while Alzheimer’s disease can affect anyone, one particular demographic has a greater risk of developing the disease.

Prevalence among African Americans

It is appropriate to bring attention to the disease during Black History Month, as African Americans are almost twice as likely to experience Alzheimer’s disease than white Americans.

Additionally, one recent study highlighted by the National Institute on Aging noted that in terms of the diagnosis rate, Black participants in disease research studies were 35% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementias than white participants. They’re also significantly more cognitively impaired and have more severe symptoms.

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The discrepancies between white and Black Alzheimer’s patients may indicate that African Americans aren’t diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease until their symptoms have progressed. Studies haven’t concluded why this happens, although it’s suspected that the biases of healthcare providers could play a role.

African Americans might not receive referrals in a timely fashion, or healthcare providers may set the bar lower in terms of diagnosis for African Americans than they do for others. Either way, these disparities must be addressed to narrow the gap, so that patients and their families can receive the help they need to face this disease.

Risk factors

Cardiovascular disease raises the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And because African Americans have an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease, they also have a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Hypertension

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of blood vessels. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is noted when the pressure against blood vessel walls is too high. Consistently high blood pressure causes damage to vessels in the brain, which causes loss of function due to a lack of oxygen. According to the American Heart Association, more than 40% of African Americans have hypertension.

Diabetes

Our bodies are designed to take in food and transform it into energy. When food breaks down, glucose is produced and released through the bloodstream. A healthy pancreas releases insulin when blood sugar rises to turn it into energy.

For people with diabetes, a malfunctioning pancreas doesn’t produce insulin as it should, and the glucose remains in the bloodstream. Glucose fuels the brain, and the effect of diabetes on the organ inhibits cognitive ability.

African American adults are 60% more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Combating Alzheimer’s disease

African Americans should take the same steps as those in other demographics in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, although African Americans should also be more proactive. If you suspect a loved one has dementia, or if you are struggling with cognitive issues, speak with a qualified healthcare professional. If the doctor dismisses your symptoms, seek another professional who will take your concerns seriously.

You can control hypertension, diabetes, and other conditions that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease risk. Visit a healthcare professional to learn how. Follow their instructions and keep yourself healthy with regular checkups.

Whatever demographic you’re in, don’t take risks with your cognitive ability.


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.

Comments

Cynthia Whalen avatar

Cynthia Whalen

I was recently diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease, I am in shock at this point. I’m reading all I can find on the disease but I’m having a very hard time with the acceptance of this disease. NOT ME !!!!!
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE??????

Reply
Ray Burow avatar

Ray Burow

Hi Cynthia,

Perhaps you didn't see the response to the comment you left on another article, so I am pasting the original comment here and hope you will find some encouragement in the response. I included a few suggestions you might consider taking. Please grasp that there is HOPE. Okay-saying a prayer for you and dropping the answer to your comment right here:

Cynthia,

I am so sorry to read about your diagnosis. I can hear the desperation in your comment. I am certain that I would feel the same way, but I encourage you to take a deep breath. Naturally, the diagnosis has taken your breath away, but you shouldn't attempt to grasp it all at one time. It's very good that you educate yourself regarding your diagnosis, but it is equally important to slow down to process the news. Information is power, but information overload can be stifling.
You mention "praying that they were wrong with the diagnosis." I believe in prayer, but don't fall into denial as you pray. Seek a second opinion if it helps you move forward with the next steps.
The fact that you were diagnosed early works in your favor. There are medications available to help keep the disease at bay, and even last year, Aduhelm was approved by the FDA for patients in the early stages of the disease. Not to say this is your answer, but to let you know there's hope in your situation.
Enrolling in a clinical trial is extremely helpful. An Alzheimer's specialist can direct you to the right one or visit the Alzheimer's Association's website (Alz.org) for information on clinical trials. There are many resources available to you., such as The Dementia Map. Use it to locate resources within your local area (https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2020/12/21/dementia-map-resource-caregivers-professionals).
Regarding whether to keep your diagnosis a secret; You may wish to be selective with whom you share the news at this stage. However, a trusted friend or family member who loves you is invaluable. Consider sharing the diagnosis with someone you love and trust and who can help you navigate the days ahead. You need an advocate who has your best interest at heart.

My friend, I am praying for you right now and wish you the best in your Alzheimer's journey. There's hope. It is difficult, but compared to just a few years ago, the outlook is better for people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Thank you for sharing your story.

Prayers!
Ray

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