A Generation Burdened: Dementia and the African-American Community

Lifestyle Factors Play a Huge Role in the Epidemic in This Community

  Alzheimers disease (which is the most common cause of dementia and memory loss amongst older adults) is devastating our aging population at an alarming rate, so much so that theres been pressure amongst the medical community to declare it a national health crisis. An increasing body of evidence shows that African-Americans face a significantly higher risk for forms of dementia (including mixed dementia, vascular dementia and Alzheimers disease) compared to non-Hispanic white populations. In fact, while Alzheimers is the most common type of dementia amongst non-Hispanic white populations, weve seen a higher prevalence of mixed dementia (a combination of Alzheimers and vascular dementia) in the African-American population.  
For some time, health conditions and genetic factors were thought to be the main risks for dementia, and the role that race plays in the disease was not considered. Now, Why the Increased Risk?  
There are several conditions that have a higher association with dementia, mixed dementia and Alzheimers disease, like:  
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • Low educational state
Its generally believed that these conditions, which have a higher prevalence in the African-American community, contribute to the increased rates of dementia, mixed dementia and Alzheimers that exist in African-Americans compared to non-Hispanic whites. Of these conditions, the most striking are vascular diseases.

Vascular factors

Vascular factors, which are medical conditions that impact the blood vessels may trigger dementia and Alzheimers. Vascular risk factors like cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are known to be disproportionately present amongst those in the African-American community.  
While these risk factors are often treatable on their own, there is no cure for Alzheimers once it fully manifests. In other words, if the risk factors are not treated, patients are likely to develop Alzheimers mixed dementia, and vascular dementia. However, new observational research shows that drugs that treat vascular diseases may also protect against cognitive impairment and Alzheimers disease. As
Sociocultural factors  
Dr. Ellison states that there is evidence that shows that the likelihood of developing AD is inversely related to educational achievement and income. Although African-Americans continue to overcome these environmental barriers, income and education may play a role in contributing to the communitys increased risk of developing Alzheimers, especially with regards to health care inequalities.

Unequal access to health care

Unfortunately, there is inequality regarding diagnostic testing, access to medical specialists and preventative care. While the reasons are numerous and complex, they include socioeconomic factors as well as geography and population density. There is no doubt that this inequality is a very real barrier in the recognition and treatment of Alzheimers disease, one that must be addressed immediately.

How to Reduce the Risk

A significant body of evidence has proven that adopting a brain-healthy lifestyle can slow down and, in some cases, even prevent the development of Alzheimers disease. We believe a lifestyle-focused preventative approach to
  1. https://www.alz.org/media/Documents/african-americans-silent-epidemic-r.pdf
  2. https://www.brightfocus.org/alzheimers/article/burden-alzheimers-disease-african-americans
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4084964/
  4. https://www.statnews.com/2019/02/28/alzheimers-disease-african-americans/
  5. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/01/28/african-americans-face-greater-risk-alzheimers-disease-than-whites/2702501002/