In the United States, we strive toward a culture of equality, where all men and women, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion, will be treated as equal. So it is often disturbing to learn that disease does not treat everyone as equals.
A prominent example is Alzheimer’s disease, which strikes some groups harder than others. African-Americans are at particular risk: Black Americans are statistically more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than white Americans. Other groups, such as Latinos and women, are also at heightened risk, compared with society at large.
Why is this so? We don’t yet have all the answers, but as our story “The Color of Risk” reports, we are beginning to tackle some of these questions. We know that some risk is, in fact, due to genes, which are with us from birth, and which can vary across racial groups. But at least some risk may be due to cultural and economic factors — and here we have the chance to intervene and change that risk.
And, even without understanding all the reasons why different groups have different levels of risk, we as a society can begin to take action to reverse those patterns. Although African-Americans are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, they and several other minority groups are statistically less likely to be properly diagnosed and to receive proper treatment. This is a statistic that must be changed.
Our inside feature, “Caring for Culture,” highlights one community that is heading in the right direction: Milwaukee, often pointed to as one of the country’s best places to grow old. Milwaukee’s Latino Geriatric Center provides programs targeted to Hispanic elders with dementia.
Nationwide, researchers, physicians, and community leaders are all finally beginning to come together to address the inequality inherent in Alzheimer’s disease, and to develop creative and effective weapons against it. Just as an earlier generation saw minority leaders rise up and struggle for civil rights for all, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity, this may be the generation where we seriously begin the struggle against inequalities in disease, such as Alzheimer’s, and — we can hope — eliminate them.
Catherine E. Myers, Ph.D.
Editor-In-Chief, Memory Loss and the Brain