African-Americans at Highest Risk for Alzheimer’s

One of the noted scientists whose accomplishments are being celebrated during Black History Month, African-American physician Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller was among the pioneering researchers who worked with Dr. Alois Alzheimer on the disease later named after Dr. Alzheimer.

The first known black psychiatrist in America, Dr. Fuller was born in Liberia, graduated from Boston University School of Medicine and conducted further research in Germany. He worked with Dr. Alzheimer to translate much of his work from German to English. Throughout his career, Dr. Fuller pioneered revolutionary research on the physical changes in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.

Sadly, the outlook for a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease today is not markedly different than it was more than a century ago when the researchers studied the first person diagnosed with the disease. And Dr. Fuller’s descendants among the African-American population are at the highest risk among the general population for developing dementia.

The numbers surrounding Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are staggering:

  • More than 47 million people worldwide are living with dementia – 5.4 million in the United States and 67,000 in Colorado
  • Every 66 seconds, another American is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
  • Alzheimer’s disease kills more Americans than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined

Because African-Americans are more likely than the general population to have vascular disease (disorders affecting the circulatory system), they are two times more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease than whites.

“Unfortunately, African-Americans also are less likely to receive a diagnosis of their condition, resulting in less time for treatment and planning,” said Rosalyn Reese, director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. “For that reason, it is even more important for African-Americans to be vigilant to the warning signs of Alzheimer’s, and consult with their family doctor when there are questions or concerns.”

For those with immediate questions, the Alzheimer’s Association staffs a 24/7 toll-free, bilingual Helpline (800-272-3900) at no charge to confidentially answer questions and help direct people to available resources.

The 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own. What’s typical? Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before. What’s typical? Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. What’s typical? Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.

4. Confusion with time or place. People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there. What’s typical? Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room. They may not recognize their own reflection. What’s typical? Vision changes related to cataracts.

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a watch a “hand clock”). What’s typical? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time. What’s typical? Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control.

8. Decreased or poor judgment. People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean. What’s typical? Making a bad decision once in a while.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced. What’s typical? Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.

10. Changes in mood and personality. The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. What’s typical? Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter is the premier source of information and support for the more than 67,000 Coloradans with Alzheimer’s disease, their families and caregivers. Through its statewide network of offices, the Alzheimer’s Association offers education, counseling, support groups and a 24-hour Helpline at no charge to families. In addition, contributions help fund advancements in research to prevent, treat and eventually conquer this disease. The Alzheimer’s Association advocates for those living with Alzheimer’s and their families on related legislative issues, and with health and long-term care providers. For information call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 bilingual Helpline at 800-272-3900, or visit

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