Alzheimer’s disease now devastates more African Americans and Hispanics than any other group, according to new findings from the Alzheimer’s Association and reported by HealthDay News.

The disease is a progressive and fatal brain disorder that causes serious memory loss and thinking and behavioral problems.

Today, more than 5 million Americans are living with the illness, and the numbers continue to soar.

“So many people are affected by it across the country,” said Maria Carillo, the association’s senior director of medical and scientific relations. “But we are rallying to highlight the disparities that exist in populations.”

But why are blacks and Hispanics more at risk of developing the disease?

African Americans and Hispanics are particularly vulnerable because people in these groups also experience a disproportionate rise in incidences of blood pressure and diabetes, two diseases that raise the odds of getting Alzheimer’s, Carillo said.

Blood pressure and diabetes rates have increased, however, among all groups, and people are living longer. By extension that means all populations face increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

It also means that as Alzheimer’s figures multiply, more families will have to bear the cost of caring for loved ones who have the disease.

Realistically, for minority caregivers with limited financial resources, this burden may become unbearable.

The dollar value of what is essentially unpaid services provided by Alzheimer’s caregiver family members is estimated at $144 billion, the report said. This is “more than the federal government spends on Medicare and Medicaid combined for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”

The price tag for these services is so sky-high, said Robert J. Egge, the association’s vice president of public policy and advocacy, because the boom isn’t lowered on Alzheimer’s disease until the illness is in its much more expensive later stages.

By that time, people with the condition usually have additional medical problems such as diabetes or coronary heart disease, which may multiply the cost of their care.

“There isn’t adequate care planning and other kinds of support structures, especially in communities with socioeconomic disadvantages,” Egge said.

One underexplored solution to the problem, Carillo said, is to stop the disease’s onslaught by pumping more dollars into research to find a way to prevent it.

But the report showed that the government spends much less money on Alzheimer’s compared with other illnesses.

And the situation may get worse before it gets better, the report warned.

“We hope to have better treatments, but cures are unlikely,” said Greg M. Cole, the associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UCLA’s David Geffen’s School of Medicine. “The only cost-effective answer we can realistically try to achieve is an effective prevention program.”

Click here for more about how diabetes may raise men’s Alzheimer’s risk.