Church Leader, Duke University Partnership Raises Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Among Blacks
USA Today on Thursday profiled Rev. James Brown, a North Carolina pastor who partnered with researchers from Duke Medical Center's Joseph and Kathleen Bryan Alzheimer's Disease Research Center to "help his church and surrounding community, especially the elderly, fend off cognitive decline and lead richer, more productive lives."
The incidence rate of Alzheimer's disease among blacks ranges from 14% to 100% higher than among whites, according to USA Today. The reasons for the disparity are unclear, but it might be linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes among blacks, Kathleen Welsh-Bohmer, aging expert and director of the Duke medical research center, said. With a grant from the National Institute on Aging, Welsh-Bohmer and Brown in 1995 established the African-American Community Outreach Program to educate people about Alzheimer's and encourage participation in medical care and clinical studies.
As part of the program, Brown and Welsh-Bohmer teamed up with other community leaders to develop health ministries and other activities designed to promote social and cognitive engagement among elderly blacks. Alzheimer's experts say that physical and mental activity can boost brain health. AACOP also holds annual health fairs that offer screenings. There was a significant decline in blood pressure among participants who had readings taken last year, compared with readings taken at its most recent health fair held in September, Welsh-Bohmer, said, crediting the results to the church's increased awareness on health issues.
AACOP also encourages elderly blacks to participate in Duke's aging and Alzheimer's study. A mistrust of the health care system prevents many blacks from participating in medical research, Scott Turner, director of Georgetown University Medical Center's Memory Disorders Program, said. He added, "The specter of the Tuskegee experiment still lingers," referring to the 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which antibiotics were withheld from hundreds of black male participants who had syphilis.
Brown said the relationship between the Duke researchers and the black community has been successful because, rather than being studied, participants "are active participants in the research. We are partners with the scientists." According to USA Today, the partnership between Brown and the Duke researchers are a part of an increasing number of other Alzheimer's researchers across the nation who are partnering with local black institutions and leaders to "clarify perceptions of Alzheimer's disease and help minorities seek earlier treatment" (Brophy Marcus, USA Today, 10/23). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.