Special health considerations in African-American elders

Am Fam Physician. 1997 Mar;55(4):1243-53.


Older African Americans constitute an expanding part of the elderly population in the United States. Although socioeconomic factors affect longevity and functional status more than race, African-American elders, as a whole, show poorer health status, as well as greater levels of financial strain and care-giver burden. Incidence rates of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, end-stage renal disease, dementia and prostate cancer are higher among African Americans than among the white population. The incidence of depression, however, is lower. Cancer survival rates are also lower, in part because of lower rates of cancer screening in this group. Physicians should carefully choose instruments to assess cognitive and physical status in African-American elders. The Activities of Daily Living scale and the Short Portable Mental Status Questionnaire are two tools that have been specially tested and shown to be reliable and valid in this population group. The Geriatric Depression Scale is a useful diagnostic tool that is quick to use in a busy office practice. Taking the time during an initial visit to understand the patient's values and perceptions of health and illness builds a sense of comfort and trust that will set a positive tone for the entire doctor-patient relationship and may empower the patient to take positive steps to improve health habits.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • African Americans* / psychology
  • African Americans* / statistics & numerical data
  • Aged
  • Arthritis
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension
  • Neoplasms
  • Psychological Tests
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States