Quick Guide to Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Alzheimer's SymbolAs a result of the population shifts that are taking place in the United States, more and more people are living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease (Alzheimer’s) is Increasing as the U.S. Population Increases

  • Age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and millions of baby boomers are now at great risk.
  • By the year 2030, the number of African-Americans 65 or older is expected to double – to 6.9 million, and thus will be at increased risk for Alzheimer’s.
  • One myth about Alzheimer’s must be replaced with fact:  Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of the aging process.
  • The most common symptom of Alzheimer’s is dementia, which includes increasing memory loss, and difficulty in reasoning and thinking.
  • Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease that gets worse over time, and 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 and Hispanics are at higher risk than whites for Alzheimer’s because they also share a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, which has an increased risk of dementia. Possible reasons may relate to the increased incidence of hypertension and cardiovascular disease in these populations.

Spirituality and Alzheimer’s Disease

  • The first problem family members may notice about a loved one who has Alzheimer’s is forgetfulness that interferes with ability to function at home, at 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 judgement, 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 Helping Affected 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

Help Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers Stay Mentally and Physically Healthy

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can be very stressful and may affect the health of the caregiver:

  • About 70 percent (7 out of every 10) of people with Alzheimer’s are cared for at home by family members and friends.
  • The presence and support of clergy for caregivers, as well as persons with Alzheimer’s, can be a tremendous source of strength.
  • Family members can be encouraged to give respite care for a break from responsibilities.
  • Caregivers can also be encouraged to join support groups such as those the Alzheimer’s Association offers.

Helpful Resources

The Alzheimer’s Association ,at www.alz.org, is the leading voluntary health organization for information and support related to Alzheimer’s care, support and research.  Local Associations can provide you and your members with information about the disease, caregiver respite, offer educational sessions, 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.

Source:  Presentation to National Baptist Convention by Sheila L. Jack, Associate Director of Diversity, Alzheimer’s Association. Article published with the coordination of Andrea King Collier, Health Power Editor.


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