HHS: Alzheimer’s risk linked to systemic racism

Racism and inequities are among the key reasons behind the relatively high rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related diseases among non-white Americans, says a new report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Alzheimer’s disease, which slowly destroys brain function and leads to cognitive decline and behavioral and psychiatric disorders, affects more than 6 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

By 2060, however, given the aging U.S. population, this number is expected to increase to 13 million.

The HHS annual report on dealing with Alzheimer’s and related dementias, National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease: 2022 Update, points out that “the relative risk of dementia is higher in rural than urban areas, particularly among minority populations.”

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, Black and Hispanic people and women face a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related diseases (AD/ADRD).

“Nationally, Black Americans are twice as likely and Hispanic or Latino (Hispanic) Americans are 1.5 times as likely to develop AD/ADRD compared to White Americans,” says the HHS report.

To address the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, public health authorities must address and prioritize entrenched systemic racism, explains the report.

Racism-rooted structural inequities are among the key causes of the disparities in dementia cases, says the report. These inequities include underinvestment in education, un-walkable communities, and subpar access to nutritious foods.

HHS says these “disparities in the prevalence of risk factors” contribute to “disparities in the incidence of AD/ADRD that are further amplified by disparities in AD/ADRD diagnosis, treatment, and access to care and resources.”

Affected groups are also less likely than white Americans to receive proper diagnosis and treatment and have limited access to medical care and resources.

Underscoring that HHS is “committed to supporting all communities affected by Alzheimer’s disease,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said last week the agency has taken bold steps “through our National Plan to reduce disparities in Alzheimer’s disease, support people with the disease and their caregivers, and reduce risk factors for the disease through public health measures.”

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