WXXI AM News

Symposium addresses link between race and Alzheimer's disease

Mar 8, 2018

Credit freeimages.com/Tim Ambler

Krista Damann has both a professional and personal interest in dementia.

Damann, a neuropsychologist at Rochester Regional Health’s Memory Center, has a 92 year old grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease.

“She's to the point now where she is completely dependent upon my mother and my aunt for her care, so her functioning is greatly diminished. She recognizes that she knows me, but she might not be able to say who I am. The essence of my grandmother is still there, her spunk."

Older African Americans are twice as likely as their white counterparts to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias, but less likely to be diagnosed. The link between race and Alzheimer’s is a focus of a health symposium held Thursday night in Rochester.

More than 160 people were expected at the event, which took place at Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Rochester.

Damann was the keynote speaker.  Her goals are to educate people about how to understand the difference between normal aging and dementia, and help them understand what to do to prevent it or seek help if they are diagnosed.

A lack of access to proper care is one possible explanation for why more African Americans aren’t diagnosed with various forms of dementia.

"Sometimes there can be mistrust and reluctance to go, I think not just in the African American community, but other communities as well.” Damann said. “If you think you're having a memory problem, some people would just rather not know. They don't want the bad news that this is dementia, so sometimes it's really fear that holds people back."

As a result, African Americans are typically diagnosed at a later stage where they incur high health care costs. It’s not clear why African Americans are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes are all risk factors for cerebral vascular disease and those conditions are more prevalent among African American communities.

There may also be a psycho-social link, according to Damann. A decrease in cognitive reserve (a protective factor against developing the disease) might be prevalent in some African American communities where there is decreased access to education or poor quality of education.

Damann stresses three preventive measures to ward off dementia: physical activity, brain stimulation, and social connection.