The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey Shines Light on Alzheimer's disease and Related Dementia (ADRD) in African Americans

by Lawrence Jones, Ph.D

The drama series the Last Days of Ptolemy Grey on Apple plus TV (debuted March 2022) has made a sizable impact on its audience. The character and story were written by African American (Black) author Walter Mosby, who has written classic novels. Ptolemy Grey, a 91-year-old African American man, is on the brink of sinking into Dementia and Alzheimer's, but he experiences a tremendous opportunity to regain his memories briefly. He uses this fleeting mental clarity to solve his nephew's death and deal with his past.

The series shines a light on the debilitating effects of memory loss and how having one's memory maintained or restored helps preserve dignity and independence for the individual who suffers from it. Memories are priceless. Memories provide protection and environmental and sociological consciousness—memory cognizance help to carry out day-to-day life management for a person. As depicted in the series, the toll on loved ones' health care providers is a genuine dilemma.

Shaw et al. (2020) report that African Americans are disproportionally affected by Alzheimer's disease and Related Dementia (ADRD). They add that "African Americans are two times more likely to develop ADRD than their White counterparts. Despite the higher prevalence of ADRD among older African Americans, less than 5% of African Americans participate in clinical research trials." Mayo Clinic (2022) "Dementia is a term for symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities. It isn't a specific disease, but many diseases can cause Dementia."

CDC (2021) "Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease that destroys brain cell connections, memory and other important mental functions. Memory loss and confusion are the main symptoms, unfortunately, no cure exists, but there are existing medications and management strategies that may temporarily improve symptoms. The Alzheimer's Association estimates "that older Black people are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer's or related dementia as older White individuals." Results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on April 19th.

Langreth and Campbell (2022). "Black people are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease as White people, but for years the pharmaceutical industry has mostly left them out of trials intended to prove new drugs are safe and effective." Bloomberg News analysis of 83 Alzheimer's disease drug trials shows only 2% of patients included in problems reported in the past decade were Black. Bloomberg's research indicates that Biogen Inc. has a new drug Aduhelm, the first Alzheimer's drug approved in almost two decades. Langreth and Campbell (2022)point out that "only 19 people, or 0.6%, of 3,285 participants in its two final-stage trials identified themselves as Black," Government statistics report that 9.6% of Americans 65 and older are Black (Langreth and Campbell).

According to the CDC (2021), "Alzheimer's disease can affect 14–100% more African American people than white American people. The risk of an African American person developing Alzheimer's disease if a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling had it is nearly 44%." Medical News Today (2021) also report that African American people may experience Alzheimer's disease and related dementias at higher rates than white people. Unfortunately, the available clinical trial designs portray a poor understanding and representation of Blacks in Alzheimer's studies. 


AppleTV Plus (2022). The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey Trailer (2022) Samuel L. Jackson

Langreth, R. and Campbell, M. (2022). Alzheimer’s Trials Exclude Black Patients at ‘Astonishing’ Rate. Bloomberg.

Mayo Clinic (2022). Dementia.

Medical News Today (2021). Alzheimer's in African Americans: Risks and inequities. Alzheimer's in African Americans: Risks and inequities (

Shaw, A. R., Perales, J., Bright, B., Moore, T., Robinson, M., Hill, C. V., & Vidoni, E. D. (2020). Recruitment of Older African Americans in Alzheimer’s Disease Clinical Trials Using A Community Based Research Approach. medRxiv.

Walter Mosley (2022).

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