Does it seem like you’re hearing more and more about incidences of Alzheimer’s in our community? Well, it isn’t just your imagination. According to an Alzheimer’s Association 2021 report, Black Americans ages 65 and older are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older whites.
Sadly, Black Americans are also twice as likely as Whites to say they would not see a doctor if they were experiencing thinking or memory problems. So not only are Black people at a higher risk of developing memory issues but were also less likely to seek help when experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s or similar dementias.
Christyn Gunter, pastor of Rock Fellowship Church, and her congregation recognize how serious Alzheimer’s is in their senior community and have taken action to ensure not only dementia patients but their caregivers are supported.
“ We wanted to be more intentional when connecting with our caregivers and seniors, like writing letters to them, sending them scriptures, and doing grocery drop-offs,” said Gunter. “ It’s also strengthened our ministry, making sure that their tangible needs are met, but also making sure that they have access to services like the Alzheimer’s Association.”
Gunter acknowledged that faith organizations need to move toward a more hands-on approach, which includes educating themselves about issues that affect their congregation. Through their training with the Alzheimer’s Association, Gunter said she was most impacted by the lack of awareness and conversations around resources for caregivers.
“ I had the biggest breakthrough when I began having these conversations and learning that a lot of our members are caregivers to patients of Alzheimer’s,” said Gunter. They’re taking care of grandma, but they don’t know what to do if grandma doesn’t want to go take a bath or how to deal with the daily stress of taking care of her.”
Aside from immediate family, caregivers are given the responsibility of watching over a senior, and people rarely talk about the significant burden, stress, depression, and isolation they experience. With the caregiving demands so great, Gunter says that some of them mentioned their own deterioration of their own physical/mental health and therefore find it difficult to continue to participate in the life of the church.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, increasing diversity in dementia care and recruiting diverse populations in Alzheimer’s research and clinical trials could help to close the racial gap and provide the opportunity to follow the science and care for those we love.