Alzheimer’s in African Americans: Are You at Risk? What You Need to Know

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, older Black Americans are two times more likely than their White counterparts to have Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive impairment but 35% less likely to be diagnosed in the early stages. The exact reason why African Americans are at higher risk is unknown, but there may be a connection to higher rates of heart disease that exist in the Black community.1 There is research that links high blood pressure and high cholesterol to Alzheimer’s as potential risk factors.

Are You at Risk?

Black patients are also more likely to have more risk factors, worse symptoms, and more severe disease.3 Research suggests that there are multiple risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s include factors we can control and some we can’t control. Click here to learn more about signs and risk factors of early Alzheimer’s Disease.


Increasing age is the most notable risk factor. This risk significantly increases every 5 years after age 65. About 5% of patients with Alzheimer’s are younger than 65 and may be impacted by early onset Alzheimer’s around 40 years old.

Family History

Individuals who have an immediate family member (parent or sibling) with the disease are at a higher risk. If you have more than one family member with the disease your risk is even higher. Researchers have also identified specific genes that are linked to developing the disease. Genetic counseling may be an option for patients with a strong family history of Alzheimer’s.

Preventable Risk Factors

There are some risk factors that are considered preventable. You can make a conscious effort to help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

  • Avoid head injuries. Since physical damage or trauma to the brain may result in the development of cognitive impairment, stay safe by preventing falls and wearing head covering or protection if taking part in potentially dangerous activities.
  • Make heart healthy choices. Research suggests that up to 80% of people who had Alzheimer’s had heart disease. Poor heart health, including the presence of heart disease, may correlate to poor brain health. If you have conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or if you have had a stroke, work closely with your healthcare provider to monitor and manage these conditions.
  • Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat healthy, and avoid excessive use of harmful substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

Fact vs. Myth

MYTH: Memory problems are normal and most people who are older experience them.
FACT: While forgetting or losing things occasionally is normal, memory problems such as poor judgment and decision making, losing track of dates, and forgetting familiar people, is not. Many Black patients delay seeking medical attention for memory concerns or changes because they think what they are experiencing is normal.

MYTH: Alzheimer’s only impacts older people. I shouldn’t be concerned if I am young.
FACT: Older individuals are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s, however early-onset Alzheimer’s, while rare, usually impacts those between the ages of 30-60.

MYTH: Alzheimer’s can’t be treated.
FACT: While there isn’t a definitive cure for Alzheimer’s, there are treatment options that can help treat symptoms.6 Clinical trials help researchers continue to evaluate potential treatment options.

Importance of Clinical Trial Participation

Diversity in clinical trials is important.7 Race and ethnicity may play a role in how individuals with Alzheimer’s disease respond to treatment. Unfortunately, there is a lack of trust for clinical research and trial participation among Black Americans.1 This is due largely to a history of medical bias and discrimination toward Black Americans. The Alzheimer’s Association recognizes the importance of clinical trials in the management and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, and the need for those in the Black community to participate in these trials.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and care partner support resources, visit Novo Nordisk’s Alzheimer’s disease webpage