What do hip hop artists T.I., Lil’ Kim, and Q-Tip and Latin Artist Luis Fonsi have in common, aside from being talented, successful, GRAMMY Award-winning artists? Even if you are a music aficionado like me, the answer may not be immediately apparent. In fact, the answer may surprise you – they all have faced a similar challenge in their personal lives. They all have cared for family members with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for the loss of memory and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Currently, more than 6 million Americans are living with the disease and staggeringly, this number is projected to more than double to 13 million by 2050. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and unfortunately, there is no cure (yet).
The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age, meaning that the majority of people with the disease are over age 65. Among this older population, however, Black Americans are twice as likely and Hispanic Americans are one-and-a-half times more likely than older White Americans to have Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementias.
Why is this? Research suggests that the difference in risk can be best explained by disparities arising from the historic and continued inequities faced by Black and Hispanic people in the United States. Specifically, racial and ethnic differences in socioeconomic factors such as access to health care increase risk for chronic conditions that are associated with higher Alzheimer’s risk, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
So, what can be done? While we wait for a cure, there are other steps we can take to improve care for those with Alzheimer’s. Despite the disproportionate burden experienced by Black and Hispanic Americans, much of the scientific research has not included sufficient diversity. We have the infrastructure in place to help increase education and outreach to underrepresented communities through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which operates special centers focused on Alzheimer’s Disease and aging in communities of color. However, these centers need more resources.
That is the goal of the Equity in Neuroscience and Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials or ENACT Act, which is currently being considered in Congress. This bill, if voted into law, would expand the number of research centers in areas of unmet need by providing them with more funding as well as enhance the diversity of staff conducting Alzheimer’s and dementia clinical trials so they are more representative of the populations they are trying to enroll. This is a critical first step in correcting some of the disparities that exist for Blacks and Hispanics with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, so the time is ripe to reach out to your representatives in Congress and urge them to co-sponsor this bill. I’ll be reaching out to my representative, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, about this important piece of legislation.
And, if you are a music lover, check out the Alzheimer’s Association’s new initiative, Music Moments, which highlights how music connects us to meaningful moments – moments which become more and more precious to those living with Alzheimer’s and their families and caretakers, including T.I., Lil’ Kim, and Q-Tip. The project features special recordings from artists such as Anthony Hamilton, Musiq Soulchild, and Luis Fonsi, among others.
For more information about Alzheimer’s Disease, please visit www.alz.org.