Alzheimer's Different for African Americans

African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to develop Alzheimer's. Research suggests it impacts African-Americans in a different way compared to others. Plus, 13 percent of U.S. Latinos aged 65 and older are believed to have Alzheimer's or related dementia. Advance planning is vital.

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Alzheimer's Different for African Americans
4 Min Read July 21st, 2015 Updated:May 6th, 2022

According to UsAgainstAlzheimer's, Latino and African American populations for those aged 65 and older are increasing dramatically. The group says the population will grow 224% and 114%, respectively, by 2030. This compares to a 65% growth rate for non-Latino white Americans.

Communities of color will see tremendous growth in Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. The Alzheimer's Association says the top factor for Alzheimer's is your advanced age. The possibility of developing some type of memory loss doubles about every five years after age 65; after age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50%.

Latinos and African Americans Experience Higher Risk for Alzheimer's

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) reports that 13 percent of U.S. Latinos age 65 and older are believed to have Alzheimer's or related dementia. The CDC estimates that this number is lower than for African Americans and higher than for non-Hispanic whites. 

Several health issues are risk factors for Alzheimer's and are prevalent in Latinos, and African Americans compared to other Americans. These include high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and heart issues. This means African Americans have double the risk compared to white Americans for Alzheimer's and Latinos are one and half times more likely than whites.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that by 2060 the number of Latinos age 65 and older is expected to nearly quadruple. Latinos face the most significant increase in Alzheimer's disease and related dementia cases of any racial/ethnic group in the United States. 

Health Factors Impact Risk

According to the NIA, research shows strong relationships between lower cognitive function and diabetes, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular disease risk factors.

An increasing amount of evidence suggests that African Americans may have a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease than the non-Hispanic white population. Another problem is that African Americans are more likely to be misdiagnosed or diagnosed with Alzheimer's in the later stages of the disease, making it harder for family and treatment. 

There is no cure for Alzheimer's or other dementias, but early diagnosis and treatment can slow the progression in some people. 

Dementia and Long-Term Care Costs Drain Assets

With the growing middle and upper-middle class of both groups, long-term care costs can wipe out much or all of the savings they worked hard to earn over their lifetime. Don't forget the tremendous impact on family members. 

Many Americans are unaware that health insurance, including Medicare and supplements, will not pay for most long-term health care expenses. People with dementia will usually require supervision and other long-term health care needs. 

Medicaid will pay for long-term care, including supervision due to dementia, but the individual must have little or no income and assets to qualify. Long-Term Care Insurance will pay for these services, but you must own a policy before your health declines. 

Care Costs Increasing Nationally

Long-term health care costs are skyrocketing nationwide. The increased demand for care, demographics, and higher labor costs are all factors that increase care costs.

The LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator will show you the current and future cost of long-term health care services where you live - Cost of Care Calculator - Choose Your State | LTC News.

Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance can play an essential part in protecting savings and income while reducing the stress and burden otherwise placed on loved ones. These policies also provide access to a choice of quality care in the setting you desire.

Reasons for Racial Risk Differences

The question remains, does science know why these groups have an even higher risk of memory loss?

Alzheimer's disease may cause different changes in the brain, or pathologies, in African-Americans than in white Americans of European descent, according to a recent study by researchers in the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center.

"Because some studies suggest that Alzheimer's disease is more common among older African-Americans than European-Americans, we wanted to see whether the brain changes caused by Alzheimer's are different in these two racial groups." 

"Studying how Alzheimer's disease looks in the brain in individuals of different races may help us to further understand the disease and pinpoint strategies for prevention and treatment."

 Lisa Barnes, PhD., study lead investigator and cognitive neuropsychologist at Rush

"Studying how Alzheimer's disease looks in the brain in individuals of different races may help us to further understand the disease and pinpoint strategies for prevention and treatment," said Barnes.

The study included 41 African-Americans with a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's dementia from the memory clinic who had an autopsy of their brain performed after death. They were then compared to 81 deceased European-Americans who had Alzheimer's dementia with the same level of disease severity and were of the same age, sex, and education level.

Researchers looked for typical signs of Alzheimer's disease (plaques and tangles) as well as other brain changes that can cause dementia, such as infarcts (the brain changes associated with stroke) and Lewy bodies (associated with Lewy body or Parkinson's disease). They noted whether people had just one pathology or more than one. They also looked at small and large blood vessel diseases.

Almost all participants in the study had Alzheimer's disease in their brains. Only about half of the European-Americans had pure Alzheimer's disease pathology (no additional pathologies contributing to dementia), whereas the rest had Alzheimer's disease pathology with either infarcts or Lewy bodies.

Clinical Alzheimer's disease in African-Americans was more likely to involve pathologies other than Alzheimer's disease pathology. In contrast, less than 25 percent of African Americans had pure Alzheimer's disease pathology. On the other hand, almost three-quarters (71 percent) of African-Americans had Alzheimer's disease pathology mixed with another type of pathology, compared to 51 percent of European-Americans. African-Americans also had more frequent and severe blood vessel diseases.

"Our study has important clinical implications because it may suggest a need for different types of Alzheimer's prevention and treatments in African-Americans. Indeed, current Alzheimer's drugs primarily target specific Alzheimer's pathologies in the brain. Given the mixed pattern of disease that we see in African American brains, it will be important to develop new treatments that target these other common pathologies, particularly for African-Americans."

Improving lifestyle, diet, and other social-economic factors can perhaps enhance overall health and the risk of higher than average dementia risk. Like everyone else, families should consider preparing for future changes in health, including brain health, before these changes take place.

Proper retirement planning, including Long-Term Care Insurance, will provide guaranteed tax-free resources to access quality care options and protect savings while, at the same time, giving loved ones the time to be family instead of caregivers.

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

More and more African Americans and Latinos are purchasing affordable Long-Term Care Insurance. As these groups enjoy higher income and savings, planning for the financial costs and burdens of getting older. Plus, many more African Americans and Latinos own small businesses. They want to keep their businesses in the family. There are also tax incentives they can take advantage of to make premiums even more affordable.

Start researching long-term health care planning by finding the current and future cost of care in your area. Plus, some states offer tax incentives and have available Partnership policies which provide dollar-for-dollar asset protection.

The LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator shows you the current, and future cost of long-term care services where you live, plus other state-specific information - Cost of Care Calculator - Choose Your State | LTC News.

The key is to plan in your 40s or 50s when your health is better, and premiums are lower. These policies are custom-designed. Premiums can vary over 100% between companies for the exact same coverage. This is why you seek the assistance of a Long-Term Care Insurance specialist. Find a specialist.

 Your Long-Term Care Insurance specialist should ask many detailed questions about your health, family history, and retirement plans. These should also discuss several key items, including:  

  • Partnership – Most states offer special policies that provide dollar-for-dollar asset protection. The Long-Term Care Insurance Partnership Program might be one of the best-kept secrets in retirement planning. Make sure the specialist explains this program and how it might help you.

  • Tax incentives – There are federal tax incentives available for some people. If you own your own business, be sure to ask.

  • Health Savings Accounts – If you have an HSA you can use the pre-tax money in your account to pay for the premium.

  • Asset-Based or Hybrid policies – These are life insurance or annuities with a rider for long-term care. Careful, only a handful are actually a long-term care benefit. However, one of these policies can provide you with the flexibility of both a long-term care benefit or a death benefit. They are expensive but can be paid with a single premium.

Ensure the specialist asks you detailed questions about your health, family history, and retirement plans. Underwriting criteria vary with each insurance company. If they are not asking you detailed questions, then find another specialist.

A specialist will save you money. You will have peace of mind knowing they are making the appropriate recommendations - Work With a Specialist | LTC News.

Planning Tools and Resources Available on LTC NEWS

Planning for the future is never easy, but long-term health care planning can be very complicated and comes with many emotions. Getting the right tools and resources will make the process much easier.

One of the goals is to reduce the stress and anxiety usually placed on your family at the time of crisis. LTC NEWS can be beneficial in providing you with important information for you to consider.

LTC NEWS has put in place several resources, including:

Find all the resources on LTC NEWS - Resources for Long-Term Care Planning | LTC News.

Finding Quality Care for Mom or Dad

If your family is already in crisis and you need to find help for mom or dad, LTC NEWS can help. We have put together several comprehensive guides to help you in your process.

Start by reading our four guides -  

If your loved one is lucky enough to own a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, be sure they use it. Sometimes families wait, thinking they can save the benefits for a rainy day. Waiting on using available Long-Term Care Insurance benefits is not a wise idea. 

Get Help in Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim

Many insurance companies have issued Long-Term Care Insurance policies over the years. Filing a claim can sometimes be complicated unless you know what to do or get expert help and assistance. 

Don't allow the claim process to stop you from using the benefits available in an LTC policy. Quality care obtained early will help provide a better quality of life and reduce the risk of a deep decline and facility care. 

If you need help in starting the process of a Long-Term Care Insurance claim, LTC NEWS can help. LTC NEWS provides free assistance with no obligation to help you or a loved one complete the claims process with a Long-Term Care Insurance policy. We have teamed up with Amada Senior Care, who will do all the work - free with no obligation. 

Get help finding quality caregivers or long-term care facilities and get recommendations for a proper care plan, whether a person has a policy. - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim | LTC News

Benefits of Reverse Mortgages 

Today's reverse mortgages for those aged 62 and older could be an ideal resource to fund a Long-Term Care Insurance policy OR even provide money to pay for care if you, or a loved one, already needs help and assistance. You might be eligible at younger ages as well. 

Some people have much of their savings invested in their homes. With today's reverse mortgages, you can find ways to fund care solutions, care itself, and even help with cash flow during your retirement. 

Learn more by asking questions to an expert. Mike Banner, LTC NEWS columnist and host of the TV Show "62 Who Knew," will answer your questions regarding caregiving, aging, health, retirement planning, long-term care, and reverse mortgages. 

- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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