Alzheimer’s Disease
As a result of the population shifts taking place in the United States, more and more people living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia will be affecting the lives of African American faith leaders.

Consider this:

  • Age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and millions of baby boomers – the first now turning 60 – are nearing the age ofgreatest risk.
  • By the year 2030, the number of African-Americans 65 or older is expected to double – to 6.9 million.

One commonly held myth about Alzheimer’s Disease in the African American community must be replaced with fact:

Alzheimer’s Disease is not a normal part of the aging process.

  • Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease that gets worse over time. It is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. Today as many as 5 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s and that number is rapidly increasing as our population ages.
  • African Americans may be especially at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s because they have high risks for cardiovascular disease including: diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Spirituality and Alzheimer’s disease

  • The first problem family members may notice about a loved one is forgetfulness that interferes with ability to function at home, work, or to enjoy lifelong hobbies and pursuits. They may even choose to skip regular services or drop out of the choir or church clubs and auxiliaries. Other possible signs of the disease include confusion about time and place, loss of judgment, misplacing things and distinct changes in personality.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that some families may feel embarrassed or reluctant to ask for help from their place of worship. If you are not sure whether or not these congregation members would like assistance,don’t wait for them to ask. Although offers of support may be turned down, one day an offer may be accepted.

Tips for Those Willing to Accept Help for a Loved One

  • Engage in short prayers or inspirational stories lasting no more than five minutes
  • Use older translations or scriptures – and encourage interaction
  • Be flexible about the way the person talks about his or her spirituality
  • Make connections through traditional music – preferably songs or old hymns
  • Plan short, frequent home visits
  • Use education about Alzheimer´s to break down fears that may exist in the congregation and build compassion for those affected by the disease
  • Have affected family members speak to the congregation about their experience as caregivers
  • Provide a quiet room where the family member or caregiver can take a person who may get anxious during services
  • Encourage the person to continue to take part in services and social events like attending church dinners or singing in the choir
  • Get the entire congregation involved in activities that connect their loved ones with other church members such as taking part in Sunday School, stuffing bulletins, participating in inter-generational programs
  • Create a memory box filled with old family pictures, stories and other special items
  • Create an atmosphere of joy, trust and comfort

Staying Strong: Alzheimer´s Caregiver Issues

  • Caring for a person with Alzheimer´s can be very stressful and may affect the health of the caregiver.
  • About 70 percent of (7 out of every 10) people with Alzheimer´s are cared for at home by family members and friends.
  • The presence and support of clergy for the person with Alzheimer´s and caregivers can be a tremendous source of strength.
  • Family members can be encouraged to use respite care for a break from responsibilities
  • Caregivers can also be encouraged to join support groups such as those the Alzheimer´s Association offers.

The Alzheimer’s Association, a Health Power Cross-linked Web Partner atwww.alz.org, is the leading voluntary health organization for information and support related to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Local Association offices can provide you and your members with information about the disease, caregiver respite and offer educational sessions and support groups and connect you to other community resources.

For a free copy of the comprehensive Alzheimer’s Association African-American Clergy Guide called, Lighting the Path for People Affected by Alzheimer’s please call the Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 1.800.272.3999. To find a local Association office and to access a wealth of information on Alzheimer’s and caregiving, visit the Association Web site at www.alz.org.

Note: This year, World Alzheimer’s Day falls on a Sunday – September 21.

Source: Presentation to National Baptist Convention by Sheila L. Jack, Associate Director of Diversity, Alzheimer’s Association.

Published through the coordination of Andrea King Collier, Health Editor of Health Power.