By Mrinal Gokhale
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 110,000 people ages 65 and older have Alzheimer’s, and the number is expected to increase to 130,000 by 2025.
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and typically a busy time for the Association.
Many racial gaps exist within numerous diseases, but Alzheimer’s is one that is hard to recognize for people of color, according to Gail Morgan, community outreach coordinator at the Southeast Wisconsin chapter.
“There is a lack of research with Alzheimer’s compared to cancer and heart disease.
Plus we found that many people of color don’t have a strong understanding of Alzheimer’s,” said Morgan.
Morgan mainly works with the area’s African American population, educating the elderly and their caregivers on the signs of Alzheimer’s and how to deal with the disease.
Most recently, she held a presentation at a low-income senior apartment at 33rd St. and Highland Ave. with about 20 attendees.
“We hold presentations at Ebenezer Family Worship Center and Calvary Baptist Church, which mostly African-Americans attend,” she said.
“I think the biggest barriers for minorities are denial and getting diagnosed in later stages of the disease.”
The Alzheimer’s Association Southeast Wisconsin chapter offers many resources, support groups and community outreach programs to educate others.
The organization makes it a priority to reach out to people of color.
Pearl Cannon facilitates a support group with Brentwood Plus, one of the chapter’s partners.
“My mom was diagnosed with dementia in 1999 in stage 2 and she moved with me and died in 2004. My husband was diagnosed in 2008, so I wanted to bring awareness to the African American community,” she said.
Cannon has been leading the group at Brentwood Church of Christ at 6424 N. 60th Street for about seven years.
Attendees are mostly caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s who meet every other month on the first Friday.
“I think that besides getting diagnosed late because of lack of insurance, there is a stigma of shame with the disease, since it deals with the brain, especially for people of color,” she said.
She added that although minorities tend to get diagnosed late, the rate for Alzheimer’s is especially on the rise for African Americans, according to statistics from the Association.
“African Americans get Alzheimer’s twice as fast as Caucasians and 1.5 times as fast as Hispanics.
This is why I became interested in educating my community,” she recalled.
Cannon said that she has observed progress by leading the support group over the years, although there is still a long way to go.
She always makes sure to provide attendees the Association’s 24/7 phone number, where people can vent or ask for more information about Alzheimer’s at any time of the day or night.
“I noticed people are becoming more accepting of Alzheimer’s a little more easily ever since I began leading the group.”