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Minority communities & Alzheimer’s disease

USC Professor William Vega writes about how minority communities will be hit hardest by soaring rates of Alzheimer’s disease in a recent article in Statnews.

Minority communities will be hit hardest by soaring rates of Alzheimer’s disease


It’s time to stop side-stepping the obvious: In addition to affecting the lives of virtually all Americans in the coming years, Alzheimer’s disease will devastate communities of color. We must act with urgency and coordinated force today to prevent that from happening.

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s deaths increased by 55 percent among all Americans between 1999 and 2014. But they increased 99 percent for African-Americans and 107 percent for Latinos. While striking, that’s likely to be an underestimate because some independent studies have found that Alzheimer’s deaths are underreported on death certificates by approximately six times because death is often attributed to more immediate causes, like pneumonia.

The CDC’s data highlight the acute challenges this disease poses for African-American and Latino communities, where this ever-worsening brain disease is growing disproportionately and where personal resources for fighting it are inadequate. In these communities, trust in medical institutions has been eroded by racism, low standards of care, and unjust past medical research practices.

Compared to whites, African-Americans are twice as likely and Latinos 1.5 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. A recent report by the University of Southern California Roybal Institute on Aging and LatinosAgainstAlzheimer’s found that the number of Latinos in the U.S. living with Alzheimer’s disease is projected to increase by 832 percent by 2060.

Gender gap in Alzheimer’s disease rates, caregiving needs more attention

Even though Alzheimer’s is more common among Latinos and African-Americans, they are less likely to be diagnosed with the disease in a timely fashion than whites. That steals valuable time to plan care. Further, Latino and African-American families are less likely to recognize the symptoms and signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia than whites, punctuating the need for increased promotion of brain health and research engagement within these growing communities.

The federal Administration on Aging has estimated that, by 2030, minorities will make up close to 30 percent of the older adult population in the United States — a trend that could be devastating for a growing number of Latino and African American families, as the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles about every five years after age 65. As our society ages and becomes increasingly multiethnic, addressing Alzheimer’s across all racial and ethnic groups must be a public health priority for state and federal governments.

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Minority communities will be hit hardest by soaring rates of Alzheimer’s disease