With more than 55,000 Kansans affected by Alzheimer’s, we must reach all communities

March 20, 2021 3:33 am

Black Americans are twice as likely as to have Alzheimer’s than white Americans, and Hispanic Americans one and a half times as likely as white Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Juliette Bradley is director of communications for the Alzheimer’s Association Heart of America Chapter and the Central and Western Kansas Chapter.

In Kansas, 55,000 individuals over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to increase by 12.7% by 2025.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s recent 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report, as well as a new supplemental report, “Race, Ethnicity and Alzheimer’s in America,” provide in-depth information on Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the United States, including the latest stats on prevalence, mortality, costs and caregiving both nationally and with state-by-state data.

The data shows that Alzheimer’s and dementia impact approximately one in nine adults aged 65 and older in the United States. Black Americans are twice as likely as to have Alzheimer’s than white Americans, and Hispanic Americans one and a half times as likely as white Americans.

The supplemental report provides a deep exploration of racial attitudes, beliefs and impacts for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Findings from two new national surveys of Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native and white Americans reveals compelling insights regarding barriers to care and support services, trust in medical research and healthcare discrimination across these groups.

Among the findings:

  • Two-thirds of Black Americans (66%) believe it is harder for them to get excellent care for Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Likewise, two in five Native Americans (40%) and Hispanic Americans (39%) believe their own race or ethnicity makes it harder to get care, as do one-third of Asian Americans (34%).
  • Nearly two-thirds of Black Americans (62%) believe that medical research is biased against people of color — a view shared by substantial numbers of Asian Americans (45%), Native Americans (40%) and Hispanic Americans (36%) as well. Only half of Black Americans (53%) trust a future cure for Alzheimer’s will be shared equally regardless of race, color or ethnicity.
  • Fewer than half of Black (48%) and Native Americans (47%) feel confident they have access to providers who understand their ethnic or racial background and experiences, and only about three in five Asian Americans (63%) and Hispanics (59%) likewise feel confident.

Actions and solutions are needed to ensure that the already devastating burden of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias on disproportionately affected racial and ethnic groups is not made worse by discrimination and health inequities in the current health care system.

In order to address current racial and ethnic barriers of healthcare, the Alzheimer’s Association is recommending:

  • Preparing the workforce to care for a racially and ethnically diverse population of older adults through cultural competence education and ensuring a culturally diverse staff that reflects the population served.
  • Encouraging medical schools, hospitals and other health care settings to offer training to overcome implicit bias.
  • Increase diversity in dementia care. Alzheimer’s Association surveys indicate non-white ethnic/racial populations want dementia care providers who understand their experiences and backgrounds, however, only one in three U.S. physicians are Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic or Asian. Future Alzheimer’s and dementia research can be strengthened by increasing the diversity of professionals who conduct clinical trial and population health research.
  • Engaging, recruiting and retaining diverse populations in Alzheimer’s research and clinical trials. A critical first step is building and restoring trust in underrepresented communities through community-based organizations and other respected local partners.

The Alzheimer’s Association — Heart of America and Central and Western Kansas chapters are actively extending local reach in underrepresented populations and collaborating with local individuals and organizations who are trusted sources and working together to bridge the racial and ethnic barriers in Alzheimer’s and dementia care.

Examples of this work include virtual health equity panel discussions to give community members the opportunity to talk openly about racial and ethnic inequalities in health and suggestions on moving forward, virtual town halls that focus on health equity for Black women, and community forums and support groups facilitated by Black or Spanish-speaking individuals who can offer a culturally competent experience.

Amid broader calls for social justice, greater strides must be made to eliminate discrimination and other forms of bias to ensure all Americans have access to high quality dementia care and support services, as well as opportunities to participate in — and benefit from — Alzheimer’s research.

The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.

For information, view the 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 help line at 800-272-3900.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Juliette Bradley
Juliette Bradley

Juliette Bradley is the director of communications for the Alzheimer's Association Heart of America Chapter and the Central & Western Kansas Chapter.