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When celebrated Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree recently went missing, it raised awareness of the little known fact that African-Americans are far more likely than white people to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

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Ogletree, who taught President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, was found safe Tuesday night after being reported missing from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts earlier that day, Daily Beast reported. Ogletree suffers from Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is an “irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks,” according to the National Institute on Aging. It’s not unusual for someone suffering from the disease to walk out of their home and get lost in familiar surroundings.

An estimated 5.7 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer’s. “What may surprise many is that African Americans … are far more likely to be afflicted with Alzheimer’s or dementia than whites,” USA Today reported in January.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley and others tweeted an urgent call on Tuesday for folks to help find the missing professor and civil rights activist.

Researchers are trying to figure out why there’s a disproportionate rate of Alzheimer’s among African-Americans, according to the USA Today report, which explained the extent of the disparity.

“…African Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s, less likely to receive a diagnosis and more likely to be diagnosed in later stages,” Joanne Pike, vice president of programs for the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, told the newspaper.

Some studies suggest that the disparity stems from higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes in African-Americans compared to whites, Daniel Bateman, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said.

“Part of it is genetics. Are there some genetic markers that African Americans have higher risks that predispose them to higher risk of dementia? Is it lifestyle? Are there social factors? Is it education or stress? Researchers are looking at many avenues,” Robert Newton Jr., associate professor at Louisiana State University, added.

Part of the problem stems from the lack of enough African-Americans participating in clinical trials and research studies on the disease, the researchers said.

Ogletree, 66, announced in 2016 that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He pledged to help raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and to battle the disease.


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