April 21, 2021
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 5 million individuals in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia. It is estimated that this number will triple by 2050. Studies show that older Black persons are almost twice as likely as White persons to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Genetics and Increased Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease
Black Americans are at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease due to a complex mix of factors. For starters, they are about 1.4 times more likely than European Americans to carry the apolipoprotein E (APOE) e4 gene variant, which consistently has been identified as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
A more recent study identified a gene known as ABCA7, which is involved in cholesterol metabolism that was found to make the Black population about 1.8 times more likely as the White population to develop Alzheimer’s.
Other Risk Factors for Black and African American Persons
Lifestyle and socioeconomic reasons may also increase the risk level of Alzheimer’s disease. Lack of adequate medical care, education level, dietary factors and increased incidence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and cardiovascular disease may also contribute to Alzheimer’s risk.
Stress has also been associated with greater risk of Alzheimer’s. The unique stress associated with racial discrimination may therefore play a role.
Laurie M. Ryan, chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch in the National Institute on Aging’s neuroscience division states: “It’s very clear that these issues are related to poverty.”
Lisa Barnes, a neurology professor at Rush University Medical Center supports that “…most striking… is the importance of social factors, such a perceived discrimination, social resources, and purpose of life.”
Fewer Black Persons Seek Care for Alzheimer’s Disease
A 2007 caregiver survey for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America found that 70 percent of Black persons view dementia symptoms as part of normal aging and simply signs of old age, compared to 53 percent of the White population.
“Not many African Americans are aware that Alzheimer’s disease is, per se, a disease,” says Kebreten F. Manaye, a physician and neuroscience professor at Howard University. “And so they don’t seek help at an early age when the disease happens.”
The same survey revealed that Black Americans were more concerned about the “stigma” of Alzheimer’s, an attitude held by both victims and their caregivers that led to delays in seeking medical treatment.
“You just don’t hear about Alzheimer’s in the Black community. There’s some stigma,” says Stephanie Monroe, associate director of the African American network at the D.C.-based nonprofit USAgainstAlzheimer’s.
Thoughts for the Future
With the awareness of our aging population and projections for Alzheimer’s disease, there is a continued need for outreach and education that goes beyond increasing knowledge of dementia in the Black and African American communities.
Benefit can be derived from a focus on treatment options to reduce the impact of symptoms, slow the progression of memory decline, and improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s disease.
If you have concerns about your memory or concerns for a member of your family, speak with your primary care doctor to get more information.