In January, at the meeting of the Massachusetts Alzheimer's Grant Advisory Committee, I became acquainted with Michael Kincade, who for many years has worked as the community relations associate for elders in the predominantly African-American Boston neighborhood of Roxbury. During the meeting, Kincade, as well as others, commented that people of color tend to be less willing to be screened for dementia. As one woman at the meeting commented facetiously, “We in the African-American community don’t get that. We just get memory loss.”
Yet, studies suggest that African-Americans and Hispanics are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than the U.S. population at large. According to the 2011-2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Progress Report, a sample group of Hispanics (mostly Puerto Rican immigrants) were more likely to show symptoms of the disease and experience more severe symptoms at their first evaluation. The results of a large study at Rush University in Chicago indicated that older African-Americans with low levels of education had not just poorer cognitive function but also more limited cognitive abilities compared to whites with the same level of education.
Earlier in his career, Kincade worked in Boston’s affluent western suburbs, where senior centers could attract 30 or 40 people to their events. But in Roxbury, Kincade soon learned, he would be facing an unexpected obstacle. When he asked a colleague to drop him off at Roxbury’s senior center, the colleague replied, “Uh, Mike, we don’t have one.”
“We know that Alzheimer’s is more likely to afflict elderly African-Americans than anyone else,” Kincade said. “And the real crazy thing about this in Roxbury is, how can I sit down with them and talk about this disease when I don’t have a designated site to meet with them?”
Seniors often congregate on their own at a centrally located McDonald’s.
But the lack of suitable meeting space in Roxbury didn’t prevent Kincade, back in 2001, from organizing the first African-American Community Forum on Memory Loss. Over the next five years, it became the largest annual gathering of African-American caregivers in the nation, attracting more than 200 attendees annually to a site in the city’s Dorchester section.
“When they showed up, it was a shock and surprise to many people,” Kincade said.
Among the panelists were a neurologist, an estate-planning attorney, State Rep. Gloria Fox, and an admissions director of a nursing home.
The model, Kincade noted, has been replicated in many other U.S. cities.