B. Smith's Diagnosis Highlights African-Americans' Risk of Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • B. Smith has been a groundbreaker. After being the first African American woman to grace the cover of the magazine Mademoiselle, Smith has evolved into an icon who serves as a spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz, Verizon, Colgate Palmolive Oxy and McCormick’s Lawry seasonings.  This lady has had a varied career, including restaurateur, author and television host. On her Twitter account, she describes herself as “A pioneer in the lifestyle category whose talents and expertise span a wide range of specialties.” She also is described as a “domestic goddess,” a “style maven,” an actress and the winner of a 2012 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance by Food Arts. She also was inducted in 2012 into the American Chef Corps, which is part of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership with the James Beard Foundation.  She and her husband host a daily three-hour radio show with her husband on Sirius XM Radio.

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    B. Smith is used to making news and being a role model, so that’s why the tweet she sent out on Thursday is so important. It reads: “The B. Smith recipe for getting through tough times--equal measures of faith, hope, courage and love. Season with style and elegance.” The reason for her tweet was her announcement on CBS News that she has Alzheimer’s disease.

    She was diagnosed four years ago after she told her doctor that she was repeating herself and not answering questions. While this is terribly sad news for her family and her fans, it’s really important news for everyone who looks up to her, especially African Americans.

    That’s because there is a silent epidemic among this group of people. A report by the Alzheimer’s Association highlights the magnitude of the crisis among this group, pointing to numerous studies. These findings include:

    • Alzheimer’s disease is actually more prevalent among African Americans than among whites. Researchers estimate that this prevalence may be 14 percent or as high as nearly 100 percent.
    • A greater familial risk of developing this cognitive condition exists among African-Americans. The risk of developing dementia increases by 43.7 percent among African-Americans who have a first-degree relative (mother, father or sibling) with Alzheimer’s.
    • African-Americans’ increased risk may be caused by genetics and/or environmental factors. Studies have found that spouses who share environmental but not genetic backgrounds have an 18.4 increased cumulative risk. 
    • Age increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease for anyone. Over 10 percent of all people over the age of 65 and almost 50 percent of those over the age of 85 have developed dementia. Place those percentages on top of the demographic trend in which the number of African Americans who are 65 years of age and older will increase to reach 6.9 million in 2030, and you can see the epidemic brewing. Add to that equation that the number of African Americans who will be 85 and older in 2030 is projected to reach 638,000 in 2030 and 1.6 million in 2050 and you can see the potential of an even more troubling scenario.
    • African-Americans have a higher risk high blood pressure and stroke. That’s important because a large longitudinal study found that people with a history of either high blood pressure or high cholesterol are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. If you have both risk factors, you are four times more likely to develop this brain disease.
    • African-Americans tend to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when the disease is in the later stages, thus limiting the effectiveness of treatment.

    These figures are why I thank B. Smith for being willing to step forward and be candid about her diagnosis. She’ll be interviewed during the June 15 edition of CBS’s Sunday Morning. I hope you’ll join me in watching to learn about her courage and grace. And I hope she along with her family will document the journey that she is now taking so everyone can continue learn from her.

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    Alzheimer’s Association. (ND.) African-Americans and Alzheimer’s disease: The silent epidemic.

    B. Smith. (ND). B. Smith website.

    LaPook, J. (2014). Restaurateur, former model, B. Smith reveals Alzheimer’s battle. CBS News.

Published On: June 06, 2014