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Risk of Alzheimer Disease In African-American Population

Alzheimer Disease has been a big cause for concern all over the world for quite a few years now equally for both families and physicians alike. The average age of onset of this disease is after the age of 65. The cause for concern amplifies when data suggests that the population in the United States above the age of 60 is growing at a rapid pace. Thus physicians believe that the cases of Alzheimer dementia are only going to increase in the coming years. One major fact that research suggests is that about 20% of people above the age of 65 in the United States belong to the African-American minority[1].

It has been estimated by 2050 this number will increase to more than 40%. This huge shift in numbers is believed to pose a stiff challenge for minority groups especially the African-American population. This is because research has shown increasingly convincing evidence of an increased risk for Alzheimer Disease in African-Americans in comparison to non-Hispanics and other minority groups[1].

The lack of enough data on the prevalence of Alzheimer Disease in African-Americans makes it tough to really understand whether the processes and mechanism involved in the development of Alzheimer remains the same for African-Americans or is there any difference. This article gives a brief overview of why African-Americans are at increased risk for developing Alzheimer Disease[1].

Why African-Americans are at Increased Risk For Alzheimer’s?

There is convincing evidence that African-Americans are at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Published scientific research data suggests genetic factors and different environmental influences may play a role in the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease in individuals of African ancestry.2 A latest study published also suggests the psychological and social aspects tend to play a crucial role and increases risk of Alzheimer diseases. As of now, Alzheimer Disease is the sixth most common cause of fatalities in the United States and the numbers are ever increasing. It is believed to affect more than 5 million people in the United States and majority of them are African-Americans[2].

The increased risk of Alzheimer Disease in African-Americans goes right into old age in excess of the age of 90 which is quite unusual. Why this happens is something which was still a matter of research up until four studies done in 2017. These studies were presented at a conference in London of the Alzheimer Association. The studies throw some insight into the risk factors which play a vital role in the increased incidences of Alzheimer Disease in the African-American population[2].

The researchers looked at the possibilities of Alzheimer Disease in African-Americans well into old age. There were 2300 participants in the study with age ranges of 90 years and above. Out of the 2300 participants, 70% were whites, 16% were African-Americans, 4% were from South America, and remaining were Asian-Americans. Their health data was analyzed from the period of 2010-2015 through electronic medical records[2].

The study revealed that Asian Americans were at the lowest risk for developing Alzheimer Disease even at very old age and African-Americans were at the highest risk.

After analyzing other factors like age, gender, overall health status African-Americans were still at very high risk in fact twice likely to develop Alzheimer Disease than white Americans or other minority groups[2].

The researchers were of the opinion that since the numbers of African-Americans within the age group of 85 years and above is only going to increase in the coming decade it becomes vitally important to identify the causes as to what puts this ethnic group at increased risk for developing Alzheimer Disease. They opined that research needs to be done whether genetic makeup plays a role in increasing the risk or whether there are any lifestyle habits that African-Americans follow which puts them in the forefront for developing Alzheimer Disease[2].

The role of stress in the development of Alzheimer Disease especially in African Americans has also been a topic that has been studied. A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin decided to study the role of life stressors in the incidences of Alzheimer Disease in African Americans. Around 1200 participants were selected for the study of which about 100 were African Americans and the data was analyzed[2].

Various stressful situations were outlined including losing job, financial stressors, domestic violence, losing a loved one, or serving in military in active combat. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire related to their stressful experiences. The participants also underwent tests to measure their cognitive abilities and memory power[2].

The researchers came to a conclusion that stressors played a major role in impacting the cognition and memory of an individual later on in life. In cases of African Americans, the results were far more alarming in that one stressful event was equivalent to a decline of four years in cognitive function and memory. The study also revealed that African-Americans were exposed to approximately 50% more stressful situations than white Americans in their life which negatively impacted their overall cognition and memory[2].

The researchers opined that stressful situations in life impacted cognitive performance more than the known risk factors like age, education, and even genetic makeup. In addition, another research done to look for increased risk of Alzheimer Disease in African-Americans point to a connection between increased mortality rates in infants to increased risk of developing this condition. The mortality rate in infants is believed to be an indicator for the overall health status of a specific population or ethnic group[2].

The research revealed that African-Americans who were born in areas where there was high infant mortality rate were twice likely to develop Alzheimer Disease than white Americans. In fact, infant mortality rare had no effect on the risk of developing Alzheimer Disease in white Americans. The research also opined that African-Americans living in low privileged neighborhoods where education, finance, and employment were all challenges increased the risk of Alzheimer Disease and cognitive impairment[2].

These areas mentioned were home to African-Americans, more than white Americans which further suggest that this group has increased risk for developing Alzheimer Disease. The researchers concluded that targeted interventions were the need of the hour in a diverse country like the United States to address the challenge that a condition like Alzheimer Disease poses[2].

Additionally, more research should be done on this topic for a better understanding of the disease and its risk factors especially in ethnic groups like African-Americans to successfully overcome the challenge and secure a better future[2].


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4084964/
  2. Association of apolipoprotein E genotype and Alzheimer disease in African Americans. Murrell JR1, Price B, Lane KA, Baiyewu O, Gureje O, Ogunniyi A, Unverzagt FW, Smith, Gamble V, Gao S, Hendrie HC, Hall KS., Arch Neurol. 2006 Mar;63(3):431-4.
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318467.php

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 31, 2019

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