Why Are African Americans at a Higher Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects people of every race and socioeconomic level. But research has found that African Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. What accounts for this staggering disparity? Researchers point to a combination of social and genetic factors.

Stressful life events and trauma, such as abuse, economic insecurity, legal problems, divorce, being fired, and death of a loved one can trigger declining function in the brain. A recent study shows that African Americans experience 60% more occurrences of stressful life events than their white counterparts. What’s more, African Americans felt more of an impact from these experiences. Each negative event aged their brains four years, versus a year and a half for whites.


Higher rates of poverty also play a role in the disparity in Alzheimer’s diagnoses. Being in a lower socioeconomic bracket brings with it a higher likelihood of living in bad housing, having poor education, living in polluted areas, and having poor nutrition and limited access to health care, which are all related to increased chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

Portrait of elderly black man looking at camera in retirement home, with group of friends in background. Patients relaxing in hospice for seniors.

Beyond socioeconomic factors, researchers are looking into a genetic component that can explain the disparity in rates of Alzheimer’s between African Americans and whites. Researchers face a challenge in this issue – the inadequate representation of African Americans in Alzheimer’s studies. Though African Americans comprise over 20 percent of those with Alzheimer’s, they only account for 3 percent of those participating in clinical trials. There is now an ongoing effort to involve African Americans in Alzheimer’s studies, in order to provide necessary representation in the fight for a cure.

Watch the video below for more insight into this important issue.

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