African-Americans and Hispanics are at a greater risk of contracting the Alzheimer's disease than whites in the US, says a new report from the Alzheimer's Association. Blacks are two times more vulnerable and Hispanics about one and one-half times more, says the report titled 2010 Alzheimer'sDisease Facts and Figures.
There are 5.3 million Americans living with the disease and every 70 seconds someone in America develops Alzheimer's disease. By mid-century someone will develop Alzheimer's every 33 seconds. In 2010, there will be a half million new cases of Alzheimer's, and there will be more new cases in each subsequent year. In 2050, there will be nearly a million new cases.
Alzheimer's was the seventh leading cause of death in the country in 2006, the latest year for which final death statistics are available. It was the fifth leading cause of death among individuals aged 65 and older. From 2000-2006 death rates have declined for most major diseases - heart disease (-11.1 percent), breast cancer (-2.6 percent), prostate cancer (-8.7 percent), stroke (-18.2 percent) and HIV/AIDS (-16.3) while Alzheimer's disease deaths rose 46.1 percent.
There are no known genetic factors that can explain the greater prevalence of Alzheimer's and other dementias in African-Americans and Hispanics than in whites. On the other hand, conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which are known risk factors for Alzheimer's and other dementias in all groups, are more common in African-Americans and Hispanics than in whites.
Socioeconomic factors, such as having a low level of education and low income are also associated with greater risk for Alzheimer's and other dementias in all groups. Data from a federal survey of older Americans shows that African-Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately represented among socio-economically disadvantaged people in this country, says the study.
It points out that these health and socioeconomic factors probably contribute to the greater prevalence of Alzheimer's and other dementias in African-Americans and Hispanics.
"Alzheimer's disease is the single largest, looming, unaddressed public health threat facing the nation, but we now know the threat is even more substantial in the African-American and Hispanic communities," said Harry Johns, Alzheimer's Association President and CEO. "These groups are more likely to have Alzheimer's, less likely to know it and, as a result, less likely to receive available treatments and supportive services that can help them cope with the disease."
High blood pressure and diabetes are potentially modifiable conditions. Better management of these conditions could help to reduce the prevalence of Alzheimer's and other dementias, especially if treatment were begun in people who have these conditions in midlife.
Complicating the pictures is that while African-Americans and Hispanics are more vulnerable, they are also less likely than whites to have a formal diagnosis of their condition. National data show that African-Americans and Hispanics with Alzheimer's and other dementias are less likely than whites to report that a doctor has told them they have a "memory related disease" (45 percent of whites with Alzheimer's or other dementias compared with 33 percent of African-Americans and 34 percent of Hispanics with these conditions).
Research shows that many African-American family members recognize the value of having a diagnosis; but long delays often occur between family members' recognition of symptoms of cognitive impairment and the scheduling of a medical evaluation. The same is true for Hispanics. Delays in diagnosis mean that African-Americans and Hispanics are not getting treatment in the earlier stages of the disease, when the available treatments are more likely to be effective and do not have an opportunity to make legal, financial and care plans while they are still capable.
"The Association is committed to increasing awareness about risk factors for Alzheimer's and other dementias among all Americans," said Johns. "Greater understanding about the importance of proper management of diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes will allow individuals to make more informed health care decisions and adopt healthy life style behaviors that can also help to reduce Alzheimer and dementia risk."
The caregivers are also under tremendous pressure. More than 40 percent of family and other unpaid Alzheimer and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high, compared with 28 percent of caregivers of other older people. Caregivers often report a decline in their own health as they try to balance the demands of caregiving with their own work responsibilities.
In 2009, 60 percent of Alzheimer and dementia caregivers were employed full-time or part-time and among those employed, two-thirds said they had to go in late, leave early or take time off because of caregiving; 14 percent had to take a leave of absence and 10 percent had to reduce their hours or take a less demanding job. Juggling the demands of caregiving, particularly in these financially difficult times, has placed additional stress on caregivers as their caregiving duties threaten their own job security.
Ultimately solving the Alzheimer crisis - with its far-reaching impact on families, Medicare, Medicaid and the health care system - will mean addressing the chronic underinvestment in research.
"Strategic investments in research for diseases such as heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, stroke and HIV/AIDS have all resulted in declines in deaths. We have not seen the same type of significant strategic investment in Alzheimer's and because of that, deaths from Alzheimer's disease continue to soar," said Harry Johns, Alzheimer's Association president. "Discovering effective treatments that prevent onset or delay disease progression takes on an all encompassing urgency as the nation braces for an onslaught of aging baby boomers. This disease, unlike any other, has the power to undermine all of our best efforts to control health care costs."
A rapidly aging population and dramatic increases in the number of Alzheimer cases in coming years should catapult the government into action, the report stresses.