Tia Delaney-Stewart with Ambassador Diane E. Watson (Denise J. Gibbs/L.A. Sentinel)

 The Alzheimer’s Association California Southland Chapter in Partnership with the Diane E. Watson Center for Compassionate Intervention hosted “A Community Conversation on Public Health, Population Health & Public Policy,” on Saturday, November 11, on the day before Ambassador Watson’s 90th birthday at People’s International Church of Christ in Los Angeles.

The community came out to listen, learn and share thoughts as panelists discussed the “Healthy Brain Initiative,” and dementia-related State and Federal legislation as well as the effect that social determinants of health have on the development of Alzheimer’s and other dementias in underserved communities.

Tia Delaney-Stewart, director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion; Attorney Nina Mousavvi, director of Advocacy & Public Policy; Dr. Mirella Diaz-Santo, Ph.D.; and Officer Julian Canales, LAPD Mental Evaluation Unit; were the presenters.

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YouTube: https://youtu.be/9kL2s_kVddI?si=fQch7KNH8HT43J3z

Worldwide, over 55 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Alzheimer’s and other dementias disproportionately affect African Americans.  African Americans are about two times more likely than White Americans to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Almost two-thirds of those living with Alzheimer’s are women.

Contrary to popular thought, Alzheimer’s and Dementia are not a normal part of aging. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia. Dementia is an overall umbrella term that describes a group of symptoms.

During the community conversation, Watson’s cousin, Attorney Michelle Denise Strickland, whose mother recently turned 101 years old, said, “If you are recognizing that there may be a dementia or Alzheimer’s issue with a family member, then you need to start a conversation.

“The conversation can start with these questions – 1. Do you have an advanced healthcare directive?  2. Do you have a power of attorney (POA)? 3. Do you have anything, any legal paperwork, that will give you the authority as a family member to get out there and advocate for your loved one?”

Diane E. Watson was honored by the L.A. county Board of Supervisors in November 2023. (Courtesy photo)

Officer Canales said, “It’s very important to have your legal documentation handy. We do get a lot of calls when the person getting the care will call and say, ‘This person is taking advantage of me,’ and yet it may be the daughter, or a caregiver. That daughter may say, ‘I take care of this person, and I have conservatorship,’ or they may say, ‘I have the power of attorney.’

“We advocate for families to always have the paperwork with you because that is a legal document, that tells us, especially a conservatorship, that ‘I care for this person.’

“If you’re going to get a conservatorship, get placement in there, so that you can tell a fire department person or an officer, ‘I need this person hospitalized,’ and that documentation makes the situation like a parent child relationship where you don’t need the consent of the person,” said Canales.

“Officers must always work within the scope of the law. We cannot go by your word alone, so having your paperwork handy is crucial,” he noted.

When asked for the reason why doctors may not be pulling patients aside to ask questions about dementia related symptoms, Delaney-Stewart said, “It is because it’s an inequitable system and most physicians are completely overwhelmed.  They don’t have the tools and resources that they need to even know how to have those conversations.

“Also, doctors are having less time to see more patients, especially after COVID. People are now coming in by the droves when there were two years when doctors weren’t seeing patients in person and many times, they don’t have the cultural awareness of how [Alzheimer’s and other dementias] present themselves in communities of color,” she said.

“When seeing a doctor, ask questions and demand more time.  You are the one who has the appointment, so you should lead the conversation,” added Delaney-Stewart.

Ambassador Watson with Attorney Michelle Strickland, Natalie Lawless and Amelia Lett (Courtesy photo)

Natalie Lawless, executive director of the Diane E. Watson Center for Compassionate Intervention, stressed the importance of advocating for our loved ones as they age.  As a relative of Watson, she cited that because her aunt has always been a strong woman and done so much for the community and the world, people forget that she is 90 years old and people change as they age.

“My aunt was so happy, and so touched by everyone’s responses during this month of celebrating her 90th birthday and recognizing her for her life’s work. She has touched the lives of so many people,” Lawless said.

“As we get older roles can start to reverse, and the person that everyone looked to as knowing everything may begin to not remember certain things like how to start the car or that they have an appointment or to take their meds, etc., but that’s where we as family and those who care come in.”

Lawless, who also cares for her elderly mother, shared, “Truthfully, there is a heartbreak that comes with the reality that the person that you love so much is just not the same as they were in their prime, but it is a great honor to take care of them, to love them, and to pay them back in every way that we can for all that they have done for us.”

The Alzheimer’s Association encourages the public to contact the organization for assistance. To learn more, visit alz.org. Visit the Diane E. Watson Center for Compassionate Intervention at https://dewcfci.org/