Alzheimers in our house
Brittney M. Walker | 12/8/2010, 5 p.m.
There is a silent killer lurking in the shadows of the African American community. Few know about it and often credit its sneaky attack to old age. This phantom menace slowly imposes a gradual, yet painful deterioration of the mind; robbing victims of their independence and memory. Known as Alzheimer's Disease (AD), it is a challenge Black families are experiencing more than others.
Alzheimer's is a fatal form of progressive dementia. At the onset, victims experience memory loss and confusion, often mistaken for old age or "old-timers." Within a span of two to 20 years, AD ultimately leads to dramatic personality changes, severe loss of mental function, the inability to make decisions and recognize family members, and eventually death.
But what makes AD fatal?
According to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, AD is related to the "breakdown of the connection between neurons in the brain." Abnormal collections of proteins called amyloid plaques and nerofibrillary tangles are associated with AD, along with the deterioration of the brain. By the final stage of the disease, researchers have found the brain has significantly shrunken.
The Alzheimer's Association reports that African Americans are twice as likely as Whites to develop AD, but are less likely to get a diagnosis.
The African American population is one of the unhealthiest groups in the country. We typically rank higher than other people for issues like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and now AD. The U.S. Department of Human Services found in its 2009 survey of health in the United States that Blacks ranked as the second unhealthiest group in the country, behind Native Americans.
Along with our fluctuating health issues, many of us do not visit the doctor on a regular basis.
Dr. Petra Niles of the Alzheimer's Association says families often seek a diagnosis years after symptoms begin to show, because AD is mistaken for old age.
"African Americans often believe and accept that memory loss is a normal part of aging," the specialist stated. "Therefore they are less likely to receive available treatments and be aware of supportive services that can assist them."
High blood pressure and diabetes as well as other diseases prevalent among African Americans are treatable ways to reduce the risk of developing AD or other forms of dementia.
"According to the 2010 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures in California, the number of African Americans living with AD will double by the year 2030 with an estimated increase from 26,521 to 52,364 people," Niles explained, emphasizing the adverse affects it has not only on patients, but families. "AD places emotional, physical, and financial stress on those who are taking care of their loved ones. As the disease progresses, the changes in the person with AD may cause unusual or unpredictable behaviors that are a challenge for the caregiver."
Most doctors concede that AD is not reversible, but it can be slowed with various medications. However, other professionals disagree.
Nathan Rabb Jr., Ph.D., a holistic doctor in Los Angeles, says although researchers have not targeted a specific cause for AD, he says other contributing factors may include our high fat, high salt and meat diets, the amount of water we drink, as well as the fluoride, mercury, and aluminum in our every day uses.