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21 Dec, 2022 19:10

US government links Alzheimer’s to racism

“Inequities” put non-white Americans at higher risk of dementia-related diseases, health ministry claims
US government links Alzheimer’s to racism

Non-white Americans have relatively high rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia partly because of racism, President Joe Biden’s administration now says.

“Entrenched systemic racism” must be addressed and prioritized, rather than focusing on individual behaviors, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said this week in its annual report on dealing with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra called for “interventions” to reduce disparities in Alzheimer’s rates, tailoring the government’s efforts “with cultural competence and equity as the primary focuses.”

Racism-rooted “structural inequities,” such as underinvestment in education, unwalkable communities and subpar access to nutritious foods, are an “important cause” of the disparities in dementia cases, HHS said. Black people are about twice as likely as whites to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia, while Hispanics are about 1.5 times as likely.

The Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association lists age, family history and genetics as the top risk factors for developing a dementia-related disease. Suffering head injuries or poor heart health also can increase the odds. Elderly people who eat a healthy diet, exercise, stay socially active and avoid smoking and alcohol abuse may be able to reduce their Alzheimer’s risks.

However, unlike the Biden administration, the not-for-profit group hasn’t found a link between Alzheimer’s and racism. “The reason for these differences is not well understood, but researchers believe that higher rates of vascular disease in these groups may also put them at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s,” the association said.  

The HHS document argued that disparities in risk factors are “grounded in generations of structural racism and inequality.” Making matters worse, the department said, non-white people suffering from Alzheimer’s also have subpar access to medical care and resources and are less likely than whites to receive proper diagnosis and treatment.

“It is therefore of critical importance that research, interventions and infrastructure to address modifiable risk factors…are culturally responsive and grounded in improving equity by addressing the social determinants of health,” the report said.

More than 6 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, and that total is forecast to jump to 13 million by 2060 in view of the country’s aging population, according to HHS. The disease slowly destroys brain function, leading to cognitive decline, as well as behavioral and psychiatric disorders.