As Alzheimer’s Awareness Month comes to a close, members of the California Southland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association are urging African Americans and Latinos to get educated on the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease – something they say is critical in addressing the disparities in health care among the two communities. They are also letting them know that staff and volunteers are available to help.
Carl V. Hill, Ph.D, MPH, who is the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the organization, said the campaign is important because often, residents in underserved communities are diagnosed when it is too late to receive adequate care and support for both patients and caregivers.
Hill, a Morehouse College alum, said he developed a passion for social justice in healthcare there, where the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Era was rooted.
For Alzheimer’s in particular, it was his work with the National Institute of Aging that shed light on the need for education among African Americans who make up almost 20 percent (compared to 14% of Hispanic adults age 65 and older and 10% of White older adults.)
This higher risk, or incidence, of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, according to the group’s website, “appears to stem from variations in medical conditions, health-related behaviors and socioeconomic risk factors across racial groups.
“Chronic health conditions associated with higher dementia risk, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic populations. Social and environmental disparities including lower levels and quality of education, higher rates of poverty, and greater exposure to adversity and discrimination increase risk for these chronic conditions and risk for dementia in Black and Hispanic populations.
“Research also suggests that structural racism may also play a role. Structural racism pervades many aspects of life that may directly or indirectly alter dementia risk. Structural racism influences environmental factors such as where people can live, the quality of schools in their communities, and exposure to harmful toxins and pollutants. It also influences access to quality health care, employment prospects, occupational safety, the ability to pass wealth to subsequent generations, treatment by the legal system and exposure to violence…”
“Knowing the warning signs is key,” Hill said. There are 10 in particular, he said, that especially those with a family history of the disease should look for:
1 .Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or 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
9 . Withdrawal from work or social activities
10.Changes in mood and personality
“We want people to engage with our chapter to learn of the latest research and other factors that can help with reducing risks,” said Hill.
Currently, the organization, he said, is really “honing in on the types of physical activity and diet can help.”
“We’re investigating the very important parts of lifestyle,” Hill, who advocates for a whole foods diet high in fiber low in saturated fat, told the Sentinel.
Knowledge is also important for caregivers, Hill said. According to the Association:
When compared with White caregivers, Black caregivers are more likely to provide more than 40 hours of care per week (54.3% versus 38.6%) and are also more likely to care for someone with dementia (31.7% versus 11.9%).
Hispanic, Black and Asian American dementia caregivers indicate greater care demands, less outside help/formal service use and greater depression compared with White caregivers. Black dementia caregivers were found to be 69% less likely than White caregivers to use respite services.
“We want to make sure that these groups receive resources in an equitable way,” Hill said.