Alzheimer’s Disease – Our Community’s Silent Epidemic
Roslyn Thibodeaux Goodall, MBA
Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in America. It affects African Americans at a two times greater incidence. Alzheimer’s is not “normal aging”, nor is it contagious. It is a progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. The stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease makes some families reluctant to admit their loved ones suffer from the illness. This denial can result in delayed diagnosis and treatment. The 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s are:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
- Confusion with time and place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
Once any of these symptoms are observed, seek the attention of a medical doctor for a diagnosis. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there is medication to help the person suffering from the illness.
My father (the late Dr. G.H.J. Thibodeaux) taught me that the church has a moral obligation to the community. To address the church’s responsibility to educate the community about Alzheimer’s disease, five (5) years ago, I launched my personal ministry of Alzheimer’s awareness through a self-funded Alzheimer’s and Caregivers Symposium, hosted by my home church (St. Matthew A.M.E., Shreveport, LA). The initial purpose of the symposium was to educate African Americans about Alzheimer’s disease and introduce attendees to studies conducted by a local Alzheimer’s researcher. We also provided resources for caregivers. The program has expanded to include more information for Caregivers. Past speakers included noted African American Alzheimer’s researchers and clinicians, from across the country. This year, the speaker discussed her research on how the religious community supports caregivers. A panel of clergy and lay discussed how their congregations support Caregivers. One person discussed the Alzheimer’s Support Group that she started at her church, as a result of having attended previous symposia.
Some researchers think Alzheimer’s is hereditary. That’s why it is more important for those of us who have the disease on both sides of our family tree to be knowledgeable of the illness and participate in clinical trials. African Americans are needed to participate in Alzheimer’s clinical trials/studies, so that more can be learned about 1) whether an individual is predisposed to the illness, and 2) why the disease is more prevalent among African Americans.
If you notice any of the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s in yourself or someone you know, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor. You may also call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Hot Line for assistance and resources. They can be reached at 1.800.272.3900, TTY/TDD: 1.866.403.3073.
There will be more articles about Alzheimer’s disease. I would love to hear from Caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s. It will take all of us to erase the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s and to get more African Americans to participate in Alzheimer’s clinical trials. I may be contacted at email@example.com.