Alzheimer disease and related dementias are a global health concern, affecting nearly 47 million people worldwide. Alzheimer disease and related dementias were among the top 10 causes of death worldwide in 2015 and are expected to increase by 10 million cases annually.1 Despite the ethnic diversity of the US, there are considerable gaps in the literature regarding dementia and how it is diagnosed and treated among many ethnic and racial groups.
In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a declaration with the intention of decreasing ethnoracial disparities in Alzheimer disease research and treatment by increasing clinical care, research, and services targeted to racial and ethnic minorities.2 Despite that declaration, in the US there are gaps in access to care for the geriatric population in general. The American Geriatrics Society estimates that the US has fewer than half the needed number of practicing geriatricians. In 2016, there was 1 geriatrician for every 1,924 Americans aged ≥ 65 years.3 Furthermore, health care providers (HCPs) are often not of the same ethnicity or adequately trained to assess and build relationships with ethnically and racially diverse populations.2 Given the projected growth in the numbers of individuals worldwide with dementia, we have a responsibility to continue to develop strategies to provide more inclusive care.
By 2060, minority populations aged ≥ 65 years are expected to represent 45% of the US population, up from 22% in 2014.4 The growth of racial and ethnic minority groups are expected to exceed the growth of the non-Hispanic white population in the next few decades. By 2060, it is estimated that the US population will increase by 75% for non-Hispanic whites, 172% for African Americans, 270% for Asian and Pacific Islanders, 274% for American Indian and Alaska Natives, and 391% for Hispanics.4
A growing body of evidence suggests that Alzheimer disease and related dementias may disproportionately afflict minority groups in the US, which will become quite significant in the years ahead. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that the prevalence of Alzheimer disease and other dementias among those aged > 65 years, is about twice the rate in African Americans and about 1.5 times the rate in Hispanics when compared with non-Hispanic whites.5 While increases in the incidence of Alzheimer disease and related dementias in non-Hispanic whites is expected to plateau around 2050, its incidence in ethnic and racial minority groups will continue to grow, especially among Hispanics.4 This stark realization provides additional compelling reasons for the US to develop preventative interventions or treatment options that may help delay the onset of the disease and to improve the quality of life of those with the disease or caregiving for those afflicted with it. Culturally competent care of these individuals is paramount.
Early and accurate diagnosis of individuals with dementia confers many benefits, including early treatment; clinical trial participation; management of comorbid conditions; training, education, and support for patients and families; and legal, financial, and end of life care planning.3 Beyond the logistical concerns (such as HCP shortages), one of the challenges of assessing minority groups is finding staff who are culturally competent or speak the language necessary to accurately communicate and interact with these subgroups. Hispanics and African Americans often receive delayed or inadequate health care services or are diagnosed in an emergency department or other nontraditional setting.5