Many in the Black and Hispanic communities suffer unnecessarily and avoid the subject of cognitive decline due to mistrust, misinformation, and stigmas related to testing and clinical trials. Black Americans are twice as likely as other ethnic groups to say they “don’t trust medical research” and “might not be treated fairly.”
One in 3 seniors die of Alzheimer’s or another dementia. In 2020, COVID-19 contributed to a 17% increase in Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths, and in 2022 there were more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s.
Recent research shows that experiencing racism is linked to poor memory. At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2022, researchers reported that experiences of structural, interpersonal, and institutional racism are associated with lower memory scores and worse cognition in midlife and old age, especially among Black individuals.
These data are especially important given Black Americans are about twice as likely, and Hispanic Americans are about one and one-half times as likely, to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias according to the 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report.
Structural racism can also influence access to healthcare that can provide diagnosis. Only 20% of Black Americans say that they have no barriers to excellent health care and support for Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Tia Delaney-Stewart, the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Southland Chapter, spearheaded an insightful panel discussion that took place on Thursday, January 12, and the “Unforgettable” stage play that took place on Saturday, January 14, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.
Delaney-Stewart said, “The information delivered by the panel of Alzheimer’s experts provided the audience with valuable and impactful takeaways that could be immediately implemented.”
“Additionally, these amazing three days of ‘Unforgettable’ related events really drove home the message of the Association’s intentionality of achieving its vision of a world without Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias,” she noted.
“We know that this can only happen by ensuring that access to resources, education, clinical trials, research, early diagnosis, cognitive health screening, medications, and interventions are available and attainable by everyone regardless of their race, ethnicity, cultural background, religious preference, sexual orientation, gender, and most importantly socioeconomic status,” said Delaney-Stewart.
“Continuing to be deliberate with our actions in partnering with and serving those communities and populations most affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is how we change the narrative,” she concluded.
Starlett Quarles, a community advocate and marketing director for The Bedford Group real estate development firm, brilliantly moderated the panel discussion and shared her own experience of caring for a loved one with dementia.
The panelists included Garrett Davis, CEO and founder of Gdavis Productions and Films; Dr. Carl V. Hill, chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer at the Alzheimer’s Association; Dr. April Thames, chief psychologist at UCLA; Dr. Cozzette Lyons-Jones, president of the Association of Black Women Physicians; and Dr. Mirella Diaz-Santos, founder of the Latinx-Hispanic Health Aging Lab at the UCLA Center for Alzheimer’s Research.
Each panelist specialized in treating or seeking a cure for the disease and shared their life-altering experiences as caregivers for their loved ones. Dr. Thames said, “ When seeing a patient, I would know right away that they had Alzheimer’s or another related dementia, but when it came to my grandmother, I didn’t want to see it.”
Dr. Thames stated, “At the Alzheimer’s Association, we believe that engaging diverse representative perspectives are critical to pursuing health equity. We are committed to making certain that all communities have a fair and just opportunity to receive early diagnosis and access to quality are.”
Unfortunately, underrepresented and underserved communities are disproportionately impacted by Alzheimer’s and other dementias, making them less likely to be diagnosed, less likely to have access to quality care, and support services, and importantly, less likely to be recruited to participate in clinical research.
“This must change,” declared Hill. “Taking part in a clinical study is one way that anyone can help fight Alzheimer’s disease. Without volunteers for research, scientists cannot find ways to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure the disease.”
If you are experiencing memory loss that disrupts your daily life, or if you or a loved one is facing challenges with the disease, contact the Alzheimer’s Association for help.Visit alz.org or call the the 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.