Alzheimer’s is a disease more prevalent among the older population and the black people of the US seem to have a higher risk of the disease. According to a study by the Alzheimer’s Association, the elder population of African Americans is at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other diseases related to dementia. On the other hand, the white people of non-Hispanic background have twice the lower risk of this disease.
One of the major hurdles in identifying the reason behind the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in black people is their less participation in health surveys. Nearly 5% of the total participants in the health studies conducted in the US are African Americans. This is a major hurdle in identifying the factors for the widespread of Alzheimer’s disease among Africans.
The two major causes of Alzheimer’s disease include tau and beta-amyloid proteins. The researchers suspect if African Americans have a natural tendency to produce greater amounts of these proteins. Beta-amyloid is a protein that causes inference in communication between cells. It forms clumps inside the brain which cause problems.
The other protein, tau forms tangles between cells of the brain. These problems lead to complications including confusion, delusions, difficulty in concentration, the tendency to forgetfulness, and various other symptoms associated with the disease.
Reisa A. Sperling, MD is a neurology professor at the Harvard Medical School. She is also the director of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She said that currently there is no evidence of increased concentration of beta-amyloid and tau proteins among African Americans.
Another professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine, Lisa L. Barnes, Ph.D., is from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center. She is currently researching on the higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s in black people. Many health experts including Barnes pointed out the fact that many African Americans suffer from health issues related to Alzheimer’s disease. Common conditions include diabetes, stroke, higher cholesterol level, hypertension, and heart diseases.
These health conditions halt the regular blood flow in the body and damage the blood vessels. This results in brain damage which leads to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. These conditions also contribute to the higher levels of tau and beta-amyloid proteins which pose a higher risk of the disease.
Barnes and other colleagues also conducted a study in 2015. They used the brain autopsies of people from both black and white populations. All the participants were patients of Alzheimer’s disease. Also they had the same factors contributing to disease including sex, age, education, and cognitive ability of the patients.
The study showed that black Americans suffered from other vascular diseases including arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis. Moreover, they had greater protein buildup of tau and beta-amyloid proteins as compared to the white people.
Another study of JAMA Neurology in 2017 showed that the risk of dementia in the black population is 67 percent greater in different states. Meanwhile, the white population in these states had a lower risk of 46 percent as compared to black people.
Some experts also said that the unequal distribution of this disease is due to unequal opportunities for education. Another research showed a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s in black people who had equal opportunities for childhood schooling and education. Since the inequality is decreasing over time, there is a chance that the prevalence of this disease will also decrease in the future.