Alzheimer’s and the African American Community

You may be surprised to learn that Alzheimer’s is the fourth leading cause of death for African Americans, but only the sixth leading cause of death among whites. It is also often referred to as a “Silent Epidemic” among African Americans, due largely in part to an unwillingness to fully acknowledge and openly discuss the disease, which can lead to delayed medical care and caregiver burnout of family members attempting to bear the burden alone.

“In our community, you don’t talk about it. By the time it is clear something is wrong, you are two to three years in. The things you could have done to prepare family financially and emotionally don’t happen until you are in the late stages”, said Rushern Baker III in a recent article published in USA Today. He began noticing changes in his wife, Christa, in her late 40s. Now 58 years old, Christa is unable to walk, talk, or eat unassisted. Mr. Baker admitted that he was afraid of what people would say, and eventually stopped bringing his wife to church to avoid uncomfortable questions.

The cultural differences in how the diagnosis is handled are beginning to change, but we have a long way to go before it can truly come out of the shadows earlier in the disease process.

Another factor is related to the increased prevalence of certain vascular-related medical conditions and diseases among African Americans. Hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and high cholesterol, among other diseases, are seen in greater numbers among African Americans. Poor midlife vascular health is widely believed to be linked to dementia, so the significance of the connection between increased vascular disease and a greater likelihood for developing Alzheimer’s disease in this population cannot be understated.

By 2030, the African American population age 65 and older will increase by 114% which suggests an exponential growth in Alzheimer’s diagnoses among this community is coming. It is imperative that we address the disproportionate prevalence of so many risk factors on this population before it is too late. While we’re beginning to see a shift in the cultural awareness and acknowledgment of the disease among African Americans, the need for more research is urgent and long overdue.


The contents of this and other individual articles are based upon the opinions of the author, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of health professionals we follow and their respective communities. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.