Alzheimer’s is an irreparable, progressive chronic disease that slowly erases a lifetime’s worth of hard-earned skills, cherished memories — and even people.

Alzheimer’s is especially damaging for African-Americans, who are 2.52 times more likely than Whites to develop cognitive impairments later in life. While it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, it is the fourth leading cause of death for older African Americans.

Scientists have not been able to pinpoint an exact cause for the racial disparity. Neurologists at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago studied the brains of patients who died from the disease and discovered that Blacks were more likely than Whites to show signs of the oft-reported plaques and tangles found in most brains of individuals who die from Alzheimer’s.

“The first challenge, is to make people aware that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are not normal. A lot of African-Americas believe that memory loss is a normal part of aging, therefore when they begin to see those symptoms they don’t seek help,” said Stephanie Monroe, the director of the African American Network Against Alzheimer’s.

But the degree to which memory loss occurs in Alzheimer’s sufferers is anything but normal, interfering with their ability to get through daily life. Experts say one of the most common early signs is the inability to retain new information.

“Alzheimer’s is not one of the priority conditions that we look at when we think about health care disparities,” noted Darrell Gaskin, director at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities. “Typically we think about other chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular and that’s where we’ve placed a lot of emphasis in terms of our policy.”

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