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.
Loss and the Brain
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