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Racism Could Play A Part in High Rate of Blacks with Alzheimer’s But Clinical Test Fears Keeps Researchers Guessing

Credit: Katja Heinemann/HBO

Credit: Katja Heinemann/HBO

Studies show that racism could be yet another reason why older African Americans are much more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than their white counterparts, but the history of clinical studies involving African-American participants has discouraged many from taking part in modern research.

The reality of Alzheimer’s disease isn’t something many Black families discuss, even after a loved one starts to show symptoms of the dreaded illness. But more studies are suggesting that this stigma needs to be banished immediately.

“You just don’t hear about Alzheimer’s in the Black community,” said Stephanie Monroe, associate director of the African-American network at the D.C.-based nonprofit USAgainstAlzheimer’s, according to the Washington Post.

Studies suggest that the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s could double by 2050 and with Black people being at higher risk for being a part of that population, it’s key that they become more engaged in finding out more about the disease.

What medical experts have already revealed is that there could actually be a connection between racism and developing Alzheimer’s.

Researchers suggest that the stress many Black people encounter from discrimination could be a stressor that contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s.

There are still many more studies that need to follow in order to confirm the theory but the way racism has plagued American institutions could also be at fault for the high rates of elderly Blacks with the disease.

Systems that have led to increased poverty and poor education in urban neighborhoods are setting African-Americans up to become likely candidates to develop Alzheimer’s.

Black people are much more likely to develop diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease and, according to some researchers, those illnesses also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s later down the road.

“It’s clear that these issues are related to poverty,” said Laurie M. Ryan, chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch in the National Institute on Aging’s neuroscience division.

Then there is the matter of education.

“Early education has a profound effect on our cognitive function throughout your entire life,” Jennifer Manly, a neurology professor at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center, told the Washington Post. “And it turns out to have a profound effect on your risk for cognitive decline and developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

Many urban school districts with predominantly Black student bodies have long struggled to obtain the resources that would allow children to perform as well as students do in private schools or predominantly white schools with more financial backing.

Socioeconomic factors are not the only reasons Blacks are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Black people are considered at higher risk for the disease even when nothing else other than genetics is taken into consideration.

Blacks were found to be about 1.4 times more likely than their white counterparts to carry a gene variant called apolipoprotein E (APOE).

Blacks are risk for Alzheimer'sAPOE has long been identified as a risk factor for Alzheirmer’s.

More recently another gene was discovered that is believed to raise the risk of Alzheimer’s – ABCA7.

This gene also has been found at higher rates in African-Americans.

With so many factors making Black people more likely to develop the disease, it may come as a surprise that many Blacks aren’t willing to participate in clinical research.

A quick look at the history of many clinical studies conducted with a focus on Blacks, however, seems to validate the community’s fears.

Back in 1932 the federal government enlisted roughly 400 low-income Black men who were suffering from syphilis.

At no point were the men informed about treatment options, which left many of the men untreated after penicillin had already become available.

The list of clinical studies that mistreated Black participants or left them uninformed about key information regarding the study is extensive and it has led to a lack of trust between researchers and the Black community.

“I think for very good reasons in minority communities there is distrust of clinical trials,” said Reisa A. Sperling, a Harvard Medical School neurology professor and director of Alzheimer’s research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Even more recently, a CDC whistleblower revealed that parents of Black children might have been uninformed that some experimental measles vaccines that were given to thousands of Black children actually increased their likelihood of getting autism.

While researchers expect the fear of clinical studies to persist, they are hoping that Alzheimer’s will at least become a more prevalent discussion in the Black community.


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2 thoughts on “Racism Could Play A Part in High Rate of Blacks with Alzheimer’s But Clinical Test Fears Keeps Researchers Guessing

  1. Dee Griffin says:

    My family is Caucasian and my father who was not impoverished died with Alzheimer's. My aunt on my mothers side has just been diagnosed with it. Everything bad does not just happen to African Americans… And I am hard pressed to believe that racism is the cause of all woes. Sometimes it's just genetics or environment or just bad luck.

  2. Alzheimer's disease I believe in the black community is connected to biological warfare against blacks, cause for over 400 plus years, we've been used as guinea pigs. Vaccines given to black kids that make them autistic, along with ritalin given to black children in public schools, the list goes on and on. Even the foods we eat have biological agents of death in them. On almost every corner of the black and Latino neighborhoods in this country we got fast food restaurants. And they make it cheap cause most folks ain't cooking no more and Latino and African-American families in most urban areas are struggling to survive and are often not having the luxury of time to cook and often times not the means. Cause if you ain't got transportation it's tough to get to a grocery store, it's tough to get to a farmer's market but many fast food places are within walking distance. The big corporations know this. But we gotta carpool with people who do have cars and access to grocery stores and farmer's markets. Basically we must pool our resources together to combat this wicked system of white supremacy aka the works of Satan and replace with a system of justice and righteous of God. Love y'all peace.

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