Harvard Medicine Magazine (Spring 2017): Shelter in Place

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.

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.


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