Understanding the Disparities in Dementia Susceptibility

Published on : 11/15/22
  • Barbara Elaine Smith — known professionally as B. Smith — was a trailblazer who lived a remarkable life: She was one of the first Black models to appear on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine; owned restaurants in New York and Washington, D.C.; authored best-selling cookbooks; and designed her own line of cookware and home décor products. By the time she reached age 67, however, she couldn’t remember any of it. B. Smith died from Alzheimer’s disease at age 70.

    Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia impair a person’s ability to think, remember, and/or engage in his or her normal routines. Dementia erodes the distinctive personality traits that make people who they are, causing them to become someone other than themselves. Despite the fact that it mostly affects older adults, dementia is not a normal part of aging.


    Certain People at Greater Risk

    By the year 2060, the number of people in the United States with dementia is expected to increase to 14 million. But certain U.S. populations are — and will continue to be — more likely to develop dementia than others: women, Hispanics, and Blacks. The reasons for their increased susceptibility are not fully understood, but there are some key indications.

    The main risk factor for developing dementia is aging, which is why among all racial categories, women are nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias than men because most women live longer than men. A family history of dementia can also increase one’s risk of developing dementia. Other factors that increase the susceptibility of developing dementia, however, are modifiable and have nothing to do with aging and genetics. Those are as follows:

    • Excessive alcohol consumption
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Diabetes
    • Overweight and obesity
    • Lower levels of education
    • Higher rates of poverty
    • Greater exposure to adversity


    It is important to note that existing research does not conclude that these modifiable risk factors cause dementia; rather, studies point out that these factors are associated with dementia. Nevertheless, because Hispanic and Black Americans are more likely to have one or more modifiable risk factors, they are one and a half to two times more likely than White Americans to develop dementia as they get older. Consequently, experts predict that by the year 2030, Blacks and Hispanics will make up nearly 40 percent of Americans with dementia.


    Strategies to Reduce Risk

    There are a few strategies that all individuals, regardless of race or ethnic background, can implement to reduce their risk of developing dementia, and those are as follows: 

    • Learning about chronic diseases and how to prevent them
    • Improving dietary intake
    • Engaging in regular physical activity
    • Ceasing or reducing alcohol consumption


    Most Alzheimer’s research occurs on White Americans, hindering the discovery of treatments and solutions specific to people of color. Without a complete understanding of the health factors that could increase their risk for dementia and how to avoid them, it may be difficult for Black and Hispanic Americans to make better lifestyle choices that can lead to better outcomes. It is therefore imperative that more Black and Hispanic Americans participate in research studies and clinical trials for dementia and chronic diseases that adversely impact the quality of their lives. 

    Finally, it’s critical that the U.S. government allocate more funds for research on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and to fully understand why people of color are more likely to develop dementia and identify treatments that could mitigate their risk.