Rushing Baker, ex-Prince George's County, executive, dances with his wife Christa, who suffers from Alzheimer's. (Photo: Rushern Baker)

A decade ago, Rushern Baker III discovered signs that something was wrong with his wife when she was in her late 40s. Christa Beverly forgot things and lost things. Then she was hopelessly only a few blocks from her parents' house.

It took a few steps, but he convinced her to see a doctor. She was tested and diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at the age of 49 years. At the time, Baker was preparing for a county executive in Prince Georges County, Maryland, before Washington, DC, a 2010 election he won.

Within a few years of the diagnosis, Christa had lost most of her functions. Today, at the age of 58, she can not speak, walk or eat alone, but stays at home. The 60-year-old Baker was reappointed as County Executive in 2014, and in 2018 denied a major Maryland governor's unsuccessful campaign, but remained his wife's primary caregiver.

An estimated 5.7 million people live in the United States in Alzheimer's Disease According to the Alzheimer's Association, the ratio includes 1 in 10 over 65.

What may surprise many is that African Americans like Christa are much more common Alzheimer's or dementia are affected as whites. Researchers say that this is partly due to some of the health problems that are more common in the African American community.

"Everyone should be worried, but African Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer's, are less likely to get a diagnosis and are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages," says Joanne Pike, vice president of programs at the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago.

Daniel Bateman, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a researcher at the University's Center for Aging Research, says a number of studies indicate a higher Alzheimer's rate in African Americans.

"There was a hypothesis why," he says. "African Americans have higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes than whites. All of these are risk factors for Alzheimer's and dementia. He says a 2018 study, which also looked at a number of stroke-related factors, found that African-Americans had an elevated rate in all five types of dementia. [19] Robert Newton Jr., associate professor at Louisiana State University, says researchers are seeking many ways to understand the context. "Part of it is genetics. Are there some genetic markers in which African Americans have higher risks that they tend to have a higher risk of dementia? Is it lifestyle? Are there social factors? Is it education or stress? Researchers look at many ways. "

Pike says other probable causes could be lower education and lower income.

One of the problems in determining the reason for the higher Alzheimer's rate is that the African Americans are not well represented by clinical trials, research studies and screenings that produce earlier diagnoses. "We need more information," says Pike.

There is also a stigma when talking about diseases like dementia. Baker says that mental illness in the African community was not easily discussed even in the churches.

Pike accuses a lack of public awareness or understanding. "Stigma prevents people from receiving treatment or diagnosis."

"You have not talked about this in our community," says Baker. "By the time it's clear that something is wrong, you're two to three years old, and what you could have done to prepare the family financially and emotionally will not happen until you're in the final stages."

of people resembled my family and I, "he says. It was considered something that happened to the elderly. It was not something that was talked about in the church about 20 years ago. Alzheimer's was not on the radar screen.

Baker He did not bring his wife to church because he was afraid of what people would say, and he did not tell his two daughters what was going on until his son Rushern III, the eldest of his three Children, told him he could not help anymore. He later regretted both decisions.

The emotional and financial impact of dementia is enormous, he says, and people must be willing to talk with family members and friends about it and support organizations such as Alzheimer & # 39;. to seek s Association [19659005WeilereinBeamterwarBakersagtseineFrauwarderHauptverdienerderFamiliealsBürgerrechtsanwaltBeraterdesKongressesundDirektorfürRegierungsangelegenheitendesUnitedNegroCollegeFundSeinSohnhattegeradedieGraduiertenschulebegonnenalsChristadiagnostiziertwurdeEineTochterhattegerademitdemCollegeangefangenunddieanderewarnochzuHause

"the impact was tremendous," he says, "the person, ie. Everything was done, was my wife. I never paid any of the bills. I did not know the codes to go online and pay them. It was a total shock. We were behind in paying the Verizon bill because … (Verizon) would not give me any code. … The emotional influence is beyond anything you can imagine.

He found help through organizations such as the Alzheimer's Association and his local church, to which he now brings his wife every Sunday.

Pike says the Alzheimer's Association is seeking volunteer helpers ready is to share information about support groups such as Purple Sundays that provide education and resources to the African-American community, and give people who experience symptoms in themselves or their families the opportunity to speak to a faith leader before they visit. The doctor and the organization Sisterhoods, Brotherhoods, and Business Groups are also cooperating.

If you point out the problem, the African Americans will respond in these communities, says Mary Austrom of Indiana Alzheimer's Disease Center and the Indiana University Faculty of Medicine: "Education is a big key. "

" I would say that, especially for For the African American and Latin American community: "Do not be afraid to speak," Baker says. "If you think something is wrong with a family member, forget things. It is important that you see a doctor. Once you have received the diagnosis, this is not the end of the world. There are ways to make your life and the life of your loved one as enjoyable and rewarding as possible.

Alzheimer's Auxiliary Materials:

Alzheimer's Association – Data and Character Report

Alzheimer's Helpline

Community Resource Finder

Alzheimer's Association Helpline: 1-800 -272-3900

This article was written with the support of the Gerontological Society of America, Journalists Network on Generations and AARP.

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