Why African-Americans are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – Michelle Battle’s encounters with brain-related diseases has been chaotic. Both her parents were diagnosed with different forms of dementia.

“To find out and have both parents — my mom was considered Alzheimer’s and my dad dementia — so it was like, how is that possible?” Battle said. “Both parents?”

Her father died in late December as the result of complications from dementia. Her mother has been battling Alzheimer’s disease for about seven years. And last year, Battle herself was diagnosed with a rare cancer.

Louis Battle
Undated courtesy photo of Louis Battle Sr. and his wife.

Battle, a Grand Rapids native, shared fond memories of her father, Louis Edward Battle Sr., with 24 Hour News 8:

“He was a salesman and he could pretty much sell you anything,” she recalled, smiling.

Battle Sr. was known as a sharp dresser, it never surprised his daughter when he would shower two or three times a day. But that changed after he was diagnosed with dementia and his memory became cloudy.

“He would be like, ‘Well, I took a shower. ‘And it’s like, no, that was couple of days ago,” Michelle Battle said.

It was like a punch to the gut.

“I knew my dad and that was not my dad,” she said.

Denise Gibson, program coordinator for the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter, explained that dementia is an umbrella term. She said that out of more than 85 types of dementia, Alzheimer’s affects the most people. Vascular dementia ranks second.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading killer in the country and years of research show that African-Americans are at greater risk than people who are white. But there are steps people can take to lower their risk.

“The African-American population fall into that category because of the untreated heart issues,” Gibson explained.

A sign urging awareness at the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.
A sign urging awareness at the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Battle told 24 Hour News 8 that guidance from the Alzheimer’s Association and Care Resources were game changers. They offered support groups and advice for new caregivers. The agencies also explained how her parents may have become more susceptible to mental impairment.

“They both have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and those are statistics that relate to dementia,” Battle said.

“If a person goes with prolonged elevation in blood pressure, in cholesterol, high level of sugar causing diabetes — all of that’s going to interfere with brain function,” Gibson said.

Battle and Gibson want more people to be aware of the connection between dementia and other diseases that are common in the black community.

The Alzheimer’s Association will hold an event called “The Basics of Alzheimer’s disease” on Wednesday at noon at St. Luke AME Zion Church, located at 101 Delaware St. SE in Grand Rapids.

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