CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa– During Black History Month in February, the Alzheimer’s Association is recognizing the contributions from Black individuals making a difference in the fight against Alzheimer’s and all other dementia. The need for strong voices and advocacy on behalf of Black communities has never been greater because African Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as older white Americans.
A Cedar Rapids woman who has been personally affected by Alzheimer’s is making a difference in the African American community as the Manager of Community Volunteers for the Alzheimer’s Association Iowa Chapter. Sherita Jenkins lost her mom, Bettye Jones, to Alzheimer’s in 2017, and she said her story is similar to many African Americans affected by this disease.
Unfortunately, there is evidence that missed diagnoses of Alzheimer’s and other dementias are more common among older African-Americans than among older whites, and this was the case for Jenkins’ mom as well. Jenkins said she noticed something was wrong with her mom starting in 2006, but she and her family didn’t know it could be Alzheimer’s.
“In the African American community, it is common to care for family members instead of going to the doctor or be in denial or not even know about Alzheimer’s, including the warning signs. Instead, we would hear words like ‘senile’ to describe the behavior,” says Jenkins. “Looking back after working for the Association, I realized my mom had all the warning signs.”
Since African Americans may be more likely to be diagnosed in the later stages of the disease, they are usually in need of more medical care. Early detection and diagnosis can allow for earlier use of available treatments that may provide some relief of symptoms and help maintain independence longer.
“After my mom’s diagnosis in 2016, the doctor didn’t give any resources, help, or information about the disease. It would have been great to know about the Alzheimer’s Association, their Helpline, and to have support,” says Jenkins. “When I got the opportunity to work for the Association, I knew I wanted to make an impact on the African American community and help them learn about the disease and warning signs.”
To learn more about the effect of Alzheimer’s and dementia on the Black community, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.