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Alzheimer’s Disease and the Minority Experience

by David L. Smith Jr., RN , Director of Nursing, Home Care Skilled Services (Home Support Unit), Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services
A doctor pointing to a laptop with a patient sitting across the tableApril 2019 is National Minority Health Month. During this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Minority Health seeks to raise awareness regarding the health disparities experienced by ethnic and racial minorities living in America. The theme for 2019 is Active and Healthy, and the goal of this year’s theme is to promote a healthier lifestyle by encouraging all Americans to engage in regular exercise. The benefits of engaging in regular exercise, even in small amounts, has proven to help reduce the devastating effects of many chronic illnesses and other disease processes, which are prevalent among minorities.

The top 10 leading causes of death within the United States (based on 2018 HHS data):
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease
  • Accidents
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Influenza and Pneumonia
  • Kidney Disease
  • Suicide
A man jogging on a towpath trail in the forestRacial and ethnic minorities are disproportionally represented among the top 10 list. Exercising regularly, with a moderate rate of intensity (something which elevates the heart rate for at least 10–15 minutes) can both significantly reduce the impact of these diseases and/or slow their progression. This is especially true for Alzheimer’s Disease which has no known cure.

Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia that causes a progressive degeneration of the brain, characterized by a loss of brain tissue, which makes the brain become smaller in size.

Persons living with Alzheimer’s Disease have memory loss, mood swings, increasing confusion, difficulty problem-solving, and experience language problems (both in written and spoken language). Alzheimer’s Disease eventually results in death due to the role it plays in the causation of other medical conditions.

African Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease than white Americans and Latinos are one-and-a-half-times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease than white Americans. Yet each of these groups are less likely to receive an early diagnosis, and as the population ages the incidence of this diagnosis is more likely. Age is a major risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. Approximately 11 percent of those age 65 and older have the disease; this increases to almost 33 percent for those over the age of 85. By the year 2030, well over 7 million ethnic and racial minorities are expected to live with this devastating illness.

Thus, it is important to encourage all persons despite race or ethnicity to exercise on a regular basis and increase their daily level of physical activity. This is the only sure-fire way to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. With an ever-increasing life expectancy, avoiding this illness becomes problematic; exercise is what the doctor has ordered to prevent the expansion of this disease. Stay active and stay healthy!