Recognizing Black History Month and the African-American Caregiver

The Alzheimer’s Association asks for your help in recognizing Black History Month. African-Americans are twice as likely as Caucasians to develop Alzheimer’s disease. There are more than 15 million caregivers nationwide — many of whom put their loved ones with Alzheimer’s before themselves. African-American in the United States have higher rates of vascular disease and risk factors for vascular disease — including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol — may also be risk factors for Alzheimer’s and stroke-related dementia.

(Related: Medical Jewelry for Alzheimer’s Patients That May Wander)

During Black History Month, the Alzheimer’s Association joined forces with African-American scientist Dr. Goldie Byrd, who has spent more than a decade researching the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Byrd recognized the significance of studying the nature of Alzheimer’s disease on a genomic level.

“I decided to focus my research on Alzheimer’s because it’s a disease of disparity, affecting some populations far more than others; its genetics aren’t well understood; and it had an impact on my family.

(Related: Alzheimer’s, Its Lonely in the Front Row)

There’s a tremendous stigma about Alzheimer’s. People perceive it as affecting their social standing, their professional opportunities … they don’t want be associated with that kind of stigma, especially coming from a community that’s had an historical struggle to integrate.

I remember when people wouldn’t talk about cancer — it was taboo. Now people are proud to say they’re survivors. I want to create a buzz about Alzheimer’s so that people feel free to talk about it. I want more information out there and more literacy about the disease.

(Related: Test Your Memory for Alzheimer’s (5 Best Tests))

We need to do a better job educating people about how to care for those with Alzheimer’s — that will help with the embarrassment. And we need to provide resources to help caregivers who have an extraordinary challenge. This disease can strip a family of so many things, including their finances.

People also need to understand that the healthier we are, the healthier the brain will be. We need to increase physical activity, reduce stress, control high blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce obesity and eat a healthy diet. Often, these things are related to socioeconomics. But where we can make changes, we should. Education really is key.”

A $1 million grant for outreach activities was recently awarded to Dr. Byrd and her team as recognition for their commitment. It will be used in part to support “Keeping Memories Alive”, a project to promote increased understanding of Alzheimer’s to all those who suffer with the disease, caregivers and policy makers.

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