Updated: Jul 1
June is #alzheimersandbrainawarenessmonth and "Among all races, women are nearly two times more likely to be affected by Alzheimer's disease than men" per CDC, however, black women face barriers to treatment and are less likely to be diagnosed.
Sometimes, we can take for granted daily tasks, like remembering what you need from the grocery store or planning out the things that need to get done for the weekend. However, those who live with Alzheimer's and dementia-related conditions may find it challenging to do these cognitive activities. Cognition is how much a person is able to plan out activities, remember people or places, and think critically in important situations. For people with Alzheimer’s and related conditions, cognition is often affected.
Impaired cognition leads to difficulty with speaking or understanding language, how to solve problems, staying focused and may lead to challenges with self care activities. Worldwide, it has been estimated that those who are living with dementia are doubling every five years.
Overall, women suffer from dementia more than men, but men do have a higher prevalence of vascular dementia. Alzheimer's dementia is more prevalent among women. The National Institute on Aging found that Black people in the U.S are more likely to have dementia-related conditions, but are 35% less likely to be diagnosed. Also, Black women who are aged 65 years or older disproportionately suffer with dementia-related conditions yet face barriers in diagnosis and treatment. Here are 5 things to keep in mind:
1. Below are the definitions of Alzheimer’s and related conditions that you should be familiar with.
Alzheimer’s disease - For older adults, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. In this condition, amyloid proteins build up between brain cells and tau proteins build up inside brain cells. Over time, brain cells cannot perform their function and die because of this protein buildup. Symptoms can range from repeating questions and taking longer to do daily living activities to personality changes and getting lost.
Frontotemporal disorders - a group of brain conditions that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a type of frontotemporal disorder and involves the death of brain cells that control voluntary movement.
Corticobasal degeneration - a condition that causes brain cell death in the outer part of the brain and in the inner part of the brain that is involved with movement.
Pick’s disease - is a condition where brain cells become larger than their regular size because of the buildup of tau proteins.
Lewy body dementia (LBD) - is a condition that is similar to Pick’s disease but instead of tau proteins, Lewy body proteins are the ones that are building up within brain cells. The buildup of lewy bodies can lead to Parkinson’s disease by reducing the production of an important chemical (dopamine) that controls walking and posture.
Vascular dementia - is a condition where injury to blood vessels, such as a stroke, causes dementia.
2. Black Women Face Increased Stress, and This Can Lead to Alzheimer’s Disease
From childhood, Black women deal with an overwhelming amount of stress because of systemic racism and discrimination, which causes poor mental health and brain function. Ideally, the body adapts to any harmful changes in the environment and quickly returns to its normal state. These changes could be an illness or any other major life event. However, Black women’s chronic stress can turn the body’s sparring match into an uphill battle. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other high levels of biomarkers are signs that Black women are facing chronic stress, especially when these blood levels are continually high. Also, stress can trigger the immune system and cause inflammation that damages the nervous system, increasing the chances of getting Alzheimers and other related conditions.
There are various techniques that can be used to relax the body when you feel stressed out. Among people with diabetes, deep breathing and muscle relaxation has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress more than just conventional treatment. Mindfulness is another useful technique for fighting stress, and it is defined as a type of meditation where you focus on your surroundings or how your body feels and try to be in the moment. In a residential retreat where mindfulness was practiced, blood levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin-6 and 8 were decreased.
3. Racial Bias In The Medical Field Makes Managing and Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease Challenging
Implicit bias in the medical profession can also cause Black women to unknowingly live with Alzheimer’s and related conditions without it ever being diagnosed. Research has shown that implicit bias can reduce activity in the region of the brain that is associated with empathy. Medical providers might overlook debilitating signs of Alzheimer’s and related conditions because of their reduced empathy. Also, medical care without cultural competency can contribute to Alzheimer’s and related conditions being undiagnosed. Common tests that are used to diagnose dementia-related conditions assume that Black patients will have low scores, which are also known as race-norming or race-adjusted algorithms. Black women would have to score much lower on these tests compared to White women for them to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related conditions.
Medical mistrust among black women is common. To address medical mistrust and racial injustices, healthcare providers should acknowledge and correct their bias, receive cultural competent training, advocate for all patients, especially black women, and refer out to providers that match their cultural background, as needed. Increasing the number of Black women in research would also help scientific findings and medical treatments become more relevant. Recruitment strategies that work with respected organizations within communities and that provide benefits to these communities are more likely to gain Black women participants.
4. Black Women with Multiple Chronic Conditions are at a higher risk for Alzheimer's Disease
Lastly, chronic diseases put Black women at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s and related conditions. Studies indicate that Black women are starting to develop obesity, diabetes, and hypertension more than White people and even more than Black men. All of the above are serious risk factors for Alzheimer’s and related conditions. A lack of referrals to providers or programs that can assist in hypertension or diabetes management only worsen the chances of getting Alzheimer’s.
5. How Can You Lower Your Chances of Getting Alzheimer’s Disease?
Healthy eating can help manage, prevent, and reverse certain chronic diseases thus, reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s and related conditions. The American Heart Association advises that you should decrease the sodium you consume by 1,000 mg per day until you reach an intake of 1,500 mg per day. Sodium is commonly found in bread, processed meats, snack items, and condiments. However, potassium, calcium, and magnesium are minerals that we should be consuming more of. Leafy green vegetables are a good source of all of these minerals. You can get potassium from foods such as papayas, dates, beans and peas. To increase the amount of calcium you consume, calcium-fortified tofu and other soy products in addition to certain vegetables and herbs.
Need expert guidance?
360Girls&Women®LLC can make your chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease extremely low. We offer herbal therapies, mind-body techniques, aromatherapy, and plant-based nutrition protocols. With all of the different sources of information about how to eat healthy, our nutrition expert can clear up the science and provide you with evidence-based suggestions.
Book an appointment with our holistic, Plant-based Registered Dietitian and Wellness Practitioner Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes. She can collaborate with you to make realistic goals for your health, while incorporating your cultural values in her advice.