Alzheimer’s disease affects over 6 million older adults in the United States. A recent report from the Alzheimer’s Association maps out where those living with Alzheimer’s reside throughout the US. The new Alzheimer’s study, which was released in the Association’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Journal, reveals a greater prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the East and Southeast regions of the country, with my home county of Orangeburg, SC coming in at number 8 on the list of the top 10 counties with the highest Alzheimer’s prevalence rates.
This Alzheimer’s study reveals prevalence for all 3,142 counties in the Nation, which is the first time ever in US history. The report also identified that older women, older Black communities and older Hispanic communities had a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia than other population segments. This type of county data gives us an in-depth look at what is going in our own backyards and puts a fire under our local leaders, advocates, and elected officials to put some real tangible support in place to address health disparities and lack of access to brain health supports and services, comorbidities, and racial discrimination in health care access.
The findings aren’t surprising to me for two main reasons:
- Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and many older adults tend to retire and move to the Southeastern region of the country for the warmer climate and lower cost of living.
- Many Black and Hispanic communities lack access to resources and information that could reduce their risk of developing the disease.
Barriers to Good Health: Access
Black and Hispanic communities in rural areas often lack health facilities such as hospitals and clinics, which means residents would need to travel a considerable distance to receive care.
Further complicating this, these communities may lack public transportation services leaving people without cars unable to travel to receive health care. In addition, people who don’t have health insurance may not seek care because they can’t afford it.
Similarly, these communities also lack access to nutritious food sources, such as supermarkets and farmers’ markets, to help support a healthy lifestyle; which has been shown to reduce risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Lack of transportation may also pose a barrier because people would need to travel to a nearby town/city to buy healthy foods.
Barriers to Good Health: Education
Unfortunately, Black and Hispanic communities aren’t receiving an adequate amount of information and education about the signs of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which means they may not visit a doctor until the disease has progressed beyond the point at which medications could help.
There also is an overall lack of health literacy in these communities that may prevent them from making informed decisions about their personal health journey. This makes them even more susceptible to chronic illnesses such as:
- Heart disease
All of which could be a factor in developing Alzheimer’s.
Key Takeaway from the Report: Planning for the Future
I believe these findings can help public health leaders and organizations plan for the future aging population in meaningful ways.
First, increasing access to care and educational outreach for at-risk populations can increase the quality of life for many people and possibly reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.
Secondly, the report highlights the opportunity to better support older Americans living with Alzheimer’s. State and local governments can fund and incorporate better care options for people with Alzheimer’s into their communities from day programs and in-home care to respite support for family caregivers.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are already making headway by improving care options and reducing disparities for people living with Alzheimer’s and non-paid caregivers in their plans. Family caregivers are given much more attention in this pilot plan, as the Guide for Improved Dementia Experience (GUIDE) model is set to address and rework common concerns that caregivers tend to face, such as certain respite services not being covered as well as a lack of proper training and 24/7 support to meet the needs of their loved ones.
This standardized plan is set to help more people living with Alzheimer’s stay in their homes longer and have a better quality of life while providing caregivers much-needed respite.
SYNERGY HomeCare offers a comprehensive memory care program for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as well as support for their family caregivers. Visit synergyhomecare.com/memory-care/ for more information.
Dr. Macie P. Smith is a licensed gerontology social worker who is focused on helping families support their aging loved ones through long-term care. Specifically, Dr. Smith educates caregivers on how to care for seniors with dementia. She is an advocate for specialized care and assists others in finding a way to provide a better quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Smith has dedicated over 22 years of her life working in gerontology and assisting families in finding personalized solutions for dementia care. For more articles by Dr. Macie Smith, go to https://synergyhomecare.com/blog/.
For more information on caring for a loved one with dementia, download SYNERGY HomeCare’s free Memory Care Guide.