The numbers are sobering. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death for all Americans and the 4th leading cause of death for older African Americans.
Today, more than 5 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The number is expected to triple within just two generations. Studies show that African Americans are two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than whites and are less likely to receive a diagnosis of their condition, which can lead to limited treatment and planning options. And the research community is still unclear why.
A key focus of research is to figure out why people of color are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and to find treatments that will benefit this community. In spite of this increased risk, however, African Americans routinely make up fewer than 5 percent of research participants.
A national study, called the A4 Study, is aimed at slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. This study tests people for an elevated level of a protein in the brain called amyloid. Scientists believe that the build-up of amyloid may lead to memory loss.
This amyloid plaque build-up begins years before people develop the full-blown symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In the A4 Study, brain scans are used to test healthy older people for evidence of amyloid plaques, and learn whether an investigational drug that targets amyloid can slow memory loss before it leads to Alzheimer’s.
African Americans have an opportunity to help end Alzheimer’s. The community must be involved in the research if uncovering a cure is the goal. It’s true that there is a deep-seated mistrust of the health industry by communities of color, and there’s little reason to wonder why. Many medical experiments, including the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, were conducted without the full consent of their African-American research subjects.
But a lot has changed since the 1970s, when the Tuskegee study ended. Today you have the right to know and be comfortable with everything that will happen during a study. If an effective treatment is found before a study ends, you are given a chance to receive it. You can also leave a study whenever you wish.
The bottom line is that volunteers are needed—especially members of the African-American community —to participate in the A4 Study. The study hopes to enroll 1,000 healthy participants between the ages of 65 and 85 who may be at risk for Alzheimer’s disease-related memory loss, but who have no outward signs of the disease. Your help is needed to make sure that communities of color are well represented. If there is a cure that works for African Americans, the community must be involved in the research that uncovers that cure. By working together, there is hope in reducing the risk factors and reversing the growing trend of Alzheimer’s disease among African Americans.