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October 22, 2020

New Alzheimer’s Center Aims to Close Racial Gaps

“Preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are among the most important and urgent challenges of the 21st century . . . we must broaden our efforts to incorporate prevention, behavioral health, and risk-reduction strategies through an individual’s lifespan.” (Brain Health Partnership)

Approximately 10,000 Americans are having their 65th birthdays each and every day. Although nearly half of people aged 85 may have this disease, about 3% of people aged 65-74 already have an early-onset form of Alzheimer’s. As the Brain Health Partnership notes, there’s plenty to do and time is short — especially in high-risk communities. 

Although age is a typically mentioned risk factor, there are also race and ethnic considerations. In fact, by 2030, it’s expected that nearly half of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease will be African American or Latino. Black Americans are in fact two to three times more likely to develop this type of dementia when compared to whites (non-Hispanics). Latinos? They’re 1.5 times as likely. 

When looking at their participation levels in clinical trials, though, these groups make up just 5% and 1%, respectively — which contributes to these “over-impacted and underserved” groups being the ones who are least likely to get appropriate diagnoses. 

In response, the new USAgainstAlzheimer’s Brain Health Equity Center is focusing on closing these racial gaps, collaborating with multiple health organizations to minimize this disparity. Partners include the National Black Nurses Association, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and Alzheimer’s Los Angeles. Initial funding of $1.5 million over five years will come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy Brain Initiative. 

The USAgainstAlzheimer’s endeavor is anticipated to create real momentum with the 2020 Lancet Commission report estimating that up to 40% of cases could be delayed or even prevented through more research and targeted interventions. 

More About the Lancet Commission Report 

This report provides insights into risk factors that can be modified to help prevent Alzheimer’s — or intervene and/or care for people who have already developed the disease. The 2017 report recommends increased educational efforts for target audiences and to manage:

  • Hypertension
  • Hearing impairments
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Depression 
  • Physical inactivity 
  • Diabetes
  • Infrequent social contact

The 2020 report adds three more to the list:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Head injuries
  • Air pollution 

The report notes how it’s never too early or too late for a person to focus on these recommendations.

More specifically, this updated report recommends systolic blood pressure of 130 or less for people aged 40 and up; the protection of ears from noise pollution and the use of hearing aids, as needed; and lessened exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke and other types of air pollution. 

Additional recommendations include the following: Behave in a way that will reduce the odds of getting a head injury; limit alcohol use; and avoid or stop smoking. In addition, it’s important to exercise and maintain a non-obese weight, and to get enough sleep and otherwise live a healthy lifestyle. 

Maintaining Brain Health 

In October 2019, Kendal at Home published a blog post by a doctor that focused on this subject, with a recommendation made dovetailing well with the Lancet Commission report. They include:

  • Be physically active. 
  • Be socially and intellectually active. 
  • Manage cardiovascular risk factors, which can include smoking, hypertension, and diabetes.
  • Review your medications with a clinician and learn about how they can affect brain health. 
  • Get enough sleep.

Discover how to prevent delirium, which can be triggered by medications, certain illnesses, and hospitalization. You can find delirium prevention information at the Hospital Elder life Program and at HealthInAging.org.

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