Brain health is an important part of overall good health, although many are not always aware of the important functions of the brain. Our brain controls thoughts, memory, speech, the movement of arms and legs, as well as the function of many organs in the body.

Dementia is a general term for problems with memory and thinking skills. It’s a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. This is not about occasionally forgetting something, or someone’s name. Dementia can be indicated when the quality of your life is so negatively impacted that you cannot function normally.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but there are other types that negatively affect memory, including vascular, Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s disease, and frontotemporal and in some cases, two or more types of dementia are combined. This is important information for the community because sometimes people do not understand that Alzheimer’s disease is just one type of dementia. Whatever kind of dementia is present, it means severe memory problems and the person experiencing them needs to see a doctor for a correct diagnosis and treatment options.

Every 65 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s. The National Institute on Aging funds Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers (ADRCs) is a major medical institution across the United States. Its purpose is to improve diagnosis and care for people with Alzheimer’s disease. The hope is to find a cure and to be able to prevent Alzheimer’s disease through scientific research. Fortunately, for Wisconsin, there is an Alzheimer’s disease Research Center located in Madison at the UW Health University Hospital.

It’s imperative for African Americans to get involved in the research.  There is an estimated 5.7 million people living with Alzheimer’s in the United States, including 1 in 10 over age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Several studies have shown Alzheimer’s disease hits African Americans at a higher rate than other ethnic and racial groups, with African Americans experiencing Alzheimer’s disease at up to twice the rate as white Americans.

African Americans are generally under included in most research studies. However, new and growing evidence suggests that the Black community may be at increased risk of the disease and that they differ from the non-Hispanic white population in risk factors and disease manifestation, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. That’s why researchers need African American participants that will help determine how the disease affects Black Americans, and what medicines are the most effective in our treatment.

Ozioma Okonkwo, an assistant professor of medicine at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, along with his colleagues, conducted a study that examined how exercise increases cognitive function, while lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Fabu Carter, MA, is a senior outreach specialist for Geriatrics and Gerontology and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC). She works with and recruits African American elders for biomedical research through the ADRC.

“I recruit African Americans with healthy memory and no family history of the disease,” Carter said. “I recruit African Americans whose parents were diagnosed with the disease. And, I recruit African Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease and who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI).”

The Mayo Clinic defines MCI as the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.

“I recruit new participants into the Wisconsin ADRC that are 45 years and older and have Alzheimer’s disease or MCI,” Carter added. “All other new participants, 40 years and older, who do not have memory problems, are recruited into African-Americans Fighting Alzheimer’s in Midlife (AA-FAiM) and the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP).”

 

How To Get Involved

AA-FAiM/WRAP is looking for African Americans, 40 years and older and especially men, to become study participants. This recruitment into AA-FAiM/WRAP means all study participants will have a study informant, fasting blood draw, a physical, questionnaires, and cognitive testing. It also offers $50 for each participant and $25 for the study informant, who answers questions about the participant’s memory. The study informant can be any adult who knows you well and can answer questions by phone or in person.   

AA-FAiM/WRAP also offers additional benefits to study participants, including a wrap-around service with feedback and resources. The Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center offers support to the community with a free, year around exercise program (a day class and a night class) with Venus Washington, and a once-a-year basic computer class in partnership with the Urban League of Greater Madison, the Division of Continuing Studies and Do It Technology.  If you want to be in a study to help us find a cure, or you have questions, please contact me, Fabu Carter, directly at 608-256-1902, extension 11685 or fpcarter@medicine.wisc.edu. 

Yvette L. Craig contributed to this report.

 

Agencies and organizations that may help

As provided by the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center:

Aging and Disability Resource Centers — The Wisconsin Department of Health Services runs ADRCs across the state, which provide accurate, unbiased information on all aspects of life related to aging or living with a disability. Find a Wisconsin ADRC close to you. In Dane County: (608) 240-7400.

Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin — A nonprofit organization specifically designed to provide a link to resources for people with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. Its mission is to help caregivers take care of themselves as well as provide a quality life for the person with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. Search the Alliance’s list of Support Groups. (888) 308-6251

Alzheimer’s Association South Central Wisconsin Chapter — Serves nine counties in Wisconsin. It provides reliable information and care consultation, creates supportive services for families, increases funding for dementia research, and influences public policy changes. Search the association’s list of Support Groups. (608) 203-8500

Area Agency on Aging — A Dane County service for adults 60 and over or their families that provides access to services that help seniors stay in their homes. (608) 261-9930

Aging Resource Center (ARC) of Milwaukee County — A Milwaukee County service to provide a single point of access to services for people aged 60 and over. (414) 289-6874

Memory Café    Memory Cafés are places in Milwaukee County where those with Alzheimer’s or related dementias and their caregivers can go to socialize and have fun. They allow you to connect with others going through similar challenges and to create new friendships. https://county.milwaukee.gov/files/county/department-on-aging/PDF/MemoryCafeFlyer.pdf

University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute on Aging — An organization that studies the biology of aging, clinical geriatrics, life-span development, and social gerontology. (608) 262-1818

Sharing Active Independent Lives (S.A.I.L.) — A membership organization for people 55+ that provides a wide array of services to help people stay independent. (608) 230-4321

Silver Alerts — A statewide system administered through the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network to notify the public that an adult with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other permanent cognitive impairment is missing. Sign up for email, text, or fax alerts. http://www.wisconsincrimealert.gov/silveralert.html

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