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The many faces of Alzheimer's disease 2010

by Isabel Fawcett, SPHR

There has been breaking news in the world of Alzheimer's disease. The Alzheimer's Association released its "2010 Report, Alzheimer's Disease, Facts and Figures." There are reportedly 5.3 million people who have Alzheimer's disease. However astronomical the Alzheimer's disease count may be, the statistic is merely the tip of the iceberg in the latest and greatest Alzheimer's developments.

Alzheimer's Overview


Alzheimer's is a form of dementia. It is a chronic, and thus far incurable disease process in the brain. The disease known as Alzheimer's is ultimately fatal, as it increasingly targets and destroys a person's brain cells.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease vary widely by individual and may include varying degrees of memory loss, impaired cognitive functioning, and behavioral changes that can be unsettling to caregivers. While Alzheimer's is more prevalent among elders 65 years and older, the disease also manifests in younger individuals.

Alzheimer's and Public Education


The Alzheimer's Association works to eradicate Alzheimer's disease and educate the general public. A wealth of information is available on the Alzheimer's Association's website, including the 2010 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures and 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer's.


Furthering Alzheimer's Education


EldercareLink.com's contributors also publish educational and care content which specifically speaks to Alzheimer's disease and related issues in eldercare.

Many other fine organizations in the United States are committed to public education about Alzheimer's disease, including online.


Alzheimer's Statistics


On March 2, 2010, the Alzheimer's Association released 2010 Report: Alzheimer's Disease, Facts and Figures. The statistics reported on page 2 of the 2010 Report are appropriately super-imposed on a map of the United States.


• *5.3 million people have Alzheimer's
• 7th leading cause of death
• $172 billion in annual costs
• 10.9 million unpaid caregivers (10.9 million caregivers?)


*Denotes 5.1 million individuals with the disease who are 65 years of age, or older.


It may be difficult for many of us to absorb the enormity of this chronic disease, including its devastating socio-economic and health toll nationwide. My head is still spinning after having read the most recent Alzheimer's statistics. My heart goes out to caregivers and direct care workers everywhere who live in the trenches of caring for those who have been diagnosed with any form of Alzheimer's disease, or may be exhibiting warning signs of the disease.


Faces of Alzheimer's 2010 More Diverse Than Ever


There are notable differences in research findings regarding the prevalence of Alzheimer's between and among individuals who happen to be racially designated as Black, Hispanic and White. The differing research conclusions are reasonable, based on the different research methods used in various high-profile Alzheimer's studies.

Expert Panel's Review

An Expert Panel designated by the Alzheimer's Association, however, estimated that older **African-Americans and Hispanics are considerably more likely than older Whites to have Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. While the Alzheimer's Association 2010 Report compares and contrasts various high-profile Alzheimer's studies, only 1 study, the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project (WHICAP), met the Panel's criteria and reported information about the prevalence of Alzheimer's and other dementias for Whites, African-Americans and Hispanics.

  • Older **African-Americans are approximately twice more likely to have Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementias than individuals who happen to be White.
  • Similarly, it is estimated that a segment of older Hispanics is at least one-and-a-half times more likely to have Alzheimer's and other related dementias than individuals who happen to be White.
  • According to the 2010 Alzheimer's Report, WHICAP's estimated Alzheimer's statistics are: 7.8 percent in Whites, aged 65 and older; 18.8 percent in African-Americans aged 65 and older; and, 20.8 percent in Hispanics aged 65 and older.

For some Hispanics and **African-Americans who historically may have perceived the opposite demographic trending to be the case, the 2010 Alzheimer's Association Report may be a socio-cultural and public education wake-up call in the world of eldercare. It is worth noting that the considerably higher prevalence estimates among African-Americans and Hispanics in 2010 could be due to heightened public awareness among either and/or both racial and ethnic groups.

**"African-Americans" as used and defined in the Alzheimer's 2010 Report denotes Black Americans and does not include individuals who happen to be Black and may be grouped, defined, and/or self-report as Hispanics.

Early Intervention and Treatment as a Common Goal


If nothing else, it is now more important than ever for all individuals regardless of race and/or ethnicity, to recognize the warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is an equal opportunity, chronic and fatal disease.

Early diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's is not about the cure, at least not for the time being. By diagnosing and treating this ravaging disease and its effects among elders and their caregivers, some elders and their caregivers may benefit from improved quality of life.

Avoiding Genetic Leaps of Logic

The Alzheimer's Association 2010 Report does not presume that the ethnic or racial designation group statistics must be due to genetic factors. Absent specific and valid scientific and medical research that might identify that there may be a genetic link to Alzheimer's, it is a mistake and significant leap of logic for anyone to so presume. It is best to avoid such premature, and thus far, unfounded conclusions.

That said, having read the 2010 Report several times, the statistics are not the least bit comforting to me regardless of my own, or anyone else's ethnic or racial designation. Sadly for all of us here in the United States, it sure feels as if Alzheimer's disease continues to have the last word.

Sources

Alzheimer's Association, Special Report: Race Ethnicity and Alzheimer's Disease, 2010...Facts and Figures, page 52.

USA Today Online and Print Articles, "Minorities More Likely to Develop Alzheimer's Report Shows," Mary Brophy Marcus, March 10, 2010; and, Minorities More Likely to Suffer Alzheimer's Disease, Updated March 9, 2010.