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Alzheimer's research finds disparities in Black communities

PHILADELPHIA -- New research revealed at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference finds that experiences of racism are associated with lower cognitive issues in midlife and older adults, especially among Black and Brown people.

"My mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's," Kristin Henning said, "so that means she was sick starting in her 50s, very early."

Henning saw her mother Rita go through a years-long battle with Alzheimer's disease, a steady decline from a once brilliant professor to someone who could barely speak. She says they began to see glaring racial disparities on the backend of her journey with the disease after applying for state aid.

"The most outrageous hurdle we encountered really was in the amount of time that it took for us to find a Social Security screener who would accept the medical records and the clear diagnosis that my mother had Alzheimer's," Henning said. "The screeners essentially told us that we were malingering, lying so we could profit from state aid and it was absolutely appalling, absolutely offensive, extremely painful."

Henning is not alone in her story.

On Tuesday, researchers with the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in San Diego unveiled startling racial disparities in health equity and resources in Black and Brown communities, as it relates to Alzheimer's and dementia.

Also, according to the association, Blacks are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer's or other dementias.

"We know that there are communities like Black, African Americans, Hispanic, Latinos who are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer's or dementia," Dr. Carl Hall, Alzheimer's Association's chief diversity officer, said.

Doctors cite genetic factors, lifestyle, exercise and diet along with lack of a timely diagnosis as factors.

They found experiences of racism in Black and Brown communities were also linked to cognitive decline.

"Spanish speaking, older Latinos are usually excluded from scientific research because they don't speak English," Dr. Adriana Perez, assistant professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

The studies included more than 1,400 Asian, Black, Latino and white people. The Alzheimer's Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer's care, support and research.

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