HHS Links Systemic Racism with Increased Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer’s

Non-white Americans have relatively high rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related diseases partly because of racism and inequities, the Biden administration says.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said this week in its annual report on dealing with Alzheimer’s and related dementias that rather than focusing on individual behaviors, they must address and prioritize entrenched systemic racism.

According to HHS data, more than 6 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s – a disease that slowly destroys brain function and leads to cognitive decline and behavioral and psychiatric disorders – but, in view of the US aging population, the forecasts are that this number will increase to 13 million by 2060.

Data shows that Hispanics are about 1.5 times as likely as whites to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia whereas Black people are about twice as likely.

HHS said that among the most important causes of the disparities in dementia cases are racism-rooted structural inequities – such as underinvestment in education, unwalkable communities and subpar access to nutritious foods- prompting HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to call for “interventions”.

He believes that disparities in Alzheimer’s rates could be reduced by tailoring the government’s efforts and putting as the primary focuses cultural competence and equity.

The report argues that disparities in risk factors are grounded in generations of structural racism and inequality but, what makes matters worse, non-white people suffering from Alzheimer’s are also less likely than whites to receive proper diagnosis and treatment and also have subpar access to medical care and resources.

Therefore, the HHS notes that it’s 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.

Unlike the HHS, the Chicago-based not-for-profit Alzheimer’s Association hasn’t found a link between Alzheimer’s and racism, listing instead age, family history, and genetics as the top risk factors for developing a dementia-related disease.

Though the reason for these differences is not well understood, researchers believe that higher rates of vascular disease in non-white Americans may put them at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s since poor heart health also can increase the odds.

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