Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Foundation of America

The Intersection of Juneteenth, Alzheimer’s and Racial Trauma

As part of its dedication to compassionate care, AFA explored the health disparities between Black and white Americans in the webinar “The Intersection of Juneteenth, Alzheimer’s and Racial Trauma,” presented by AFA program coordinator Olivia Thomas, MPH.

We know that racial trauma impacts health. The persistent stress of experiencing discrimination, stigmatization and disadvantage take a physical toll on the health of Black Americans that manifests in the onset of illness and earlier death.

When it comes to memory loss illnesses, Black Americans are also twice as likely to develop dementias as white Americans. “Unfortunately, Black Americans interaction with the healthcare system is influenced by a history of discrimination and mistreatment,” Thomas said. “There are additional influences of structural racism, meaning the policies and practices that place some people at a disadvantage. This disadvantage impacts one’s ability to attain their highest level of health.”

Olivia Thomas, MPH: Education Program Coordinator at AFA

“We need to achieve health equity,” she said. “We must eliminate preventable health disparities, overcome barriers to care and address historical and contemporary injustices.”

Studies show the rate of being diagnosed with dementia is two times higher for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “When the trauma starts early, the effects accumulate, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” Thomas said.

To meet these challenges Thomas said research into memory loss illnesses needs to be more diverse in terms of researchers and participants to understand how the lived experience of Black Americans has impacted their brain health.

In tribute to Juneteenth, Thomas also highlighted the work of Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller who was born in 1872, the grandson of slaves in Virginia. Fuller was a psychiatrist, researcher and medical educator who worked along side Dr. Alois Alzheimer, the man who first identified the disease that would bear his name.

Fuller helped conduct groundbreaking research on the physically observable abnormalities in the brains of patients who had the disease that would later be called Alzheimer’s. This involved doing autopsies from which he described the evidence of brain atrophies, tangles and plaques that was significant in understanding Alzheimer’s.

In 1912 he published the first comprehensive review of Alzheimer’s disease and later was the first to translate Alzheimer’s work into English from German. Because of Fuller’s efforts, doctors began to understand cognitive diseases as being a result of brain decay rather than insanity.

To hear the entire presentation, click here or view the recording below.