African Americans & Alzheimer’s Disease: A Research Study at NC A&T State University

by Terry Watson | February 10th, 2011

African Americans and Alzheimer's disease

What is Alzheimers?
Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of the aging process. However, the greatest risk factors are advancing age and family history. Alzheimer’s is a disease that attacks the brain and is considered the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and the 5th leading cause of death in persons 60 years or older. There is no cure for AD and it is estimated that Medicare could spend as much as $160 billion dollars by 2010 on beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
In persons with Alzheimer’s disease, the brain develops debilitating protein fragments called plaques and tangles in the brain. A build up of plaques and tangles in and around nerve cells destroys nerve cells and their connections and eventually prevents the brain from functioning properly. The plaques and tangles are usually formed in areas of the brain that are needed for memory. Based on brain imaging research, people with Alzheimer’s disease usually have more plaques and tangles than persons without the disease.
Most individuals with the disease are 65 years of age or older and the likelihood of developing AD doubles about every five years after the age of 65. After 85, the risk reaches nearly 50%! Women are nearly twice as likely as men to develop AD, and African Americans are 14% to 100% more likely to have AD than Caucasians, according to the National Alzheimer’s Association. Family history is another risk factor. Research has shown that the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease is greater if one has a first degree relative with the disease. Because the disease runs in our families, understanding the genetics of AD, particularly in African-Americans who suffer disproportionately, is very important.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Alzheimer’s Association the 10 warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease are as follows:

  1. Memory changes that disrupt daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

Warning signs that you or your loved ones may experience will be gradual and should be shared with a physician. Getting a diagnosis early and getting the appropriate help are important. Although there is no cure, there are medications available to help slow the progression of the disease. In addition, maintaining good health, in general, will also improve brain health.
Maintaining Brain Health
There are several important things that we can do to maintain good brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, such as:

  1. Eating a nutritious diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  2. Keeping up with your doctor’s appointments
  3. Having annual check-ups
  4. Exercising 3 to 5 times a week
  5. Keeping your mind active

The African American and Alzheimer’s disease research team is dedicated to finding answers; however, they need the help of the community. The study requires 2,000 African American participants that are 60 years of age and older. The study needs 1,000 participants that have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and 1,000 participants without dementia or Alzheimer’s. Each participant must sign a confidential informed consent. Each participant will be asked questions regarding family and medical history, to participate in memory and neurological testing, and provide a blood sample.

If you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or signs that you are concerned about, please contact us at 1-888-248-2808 or email Takiyah Starks, Project Clinical Coordinator at
tdstarks@ncat.edu. You may also visit our website at www.ncatalz.com or the Alzheimer’s
Association’s website www.alz.org for additional help and information.

Dr. Goldie Byrd and her research team developed a new initiative the Keeping Memories Alive Project (KMAP) – a national educational outreach campaign to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.
For additional information regarding the African American and Alzheimer’s Disease Research Study please contact Dr. Rosalyn Lang at (336) 285-2165. Researchers in the Department of Biology at NC A&T State University are dedicated to protecting memories for generations to come. You, too, can help. We hope that you will serve as a participant in our genetic study. Your input and involvement will help us prove health care for those suffering with Alzheimer’s.

We can keep Dr. King’s dream alive by working to keep memories alive. In celebration of Black History Month I would like to share a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” His quote serves as a reminder of how important it is that we continue to work together to reduce inequality in health by closing gaps in health disparities. Please share our information with your family, friends and community, and become activity participants in reducing health disparities.

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