Early diagnosis critical in Alzheimer’s care

First of a two-part story

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in Minnesota. A recent discussion of memory loss and aging at Wayman AME Church emphasized the importance that family members learn to recognize its symptoms.

Beverly Propes
Beverly Propes

A recent Alzheimer’s Association report says 1,427 persons in Minnesota died in 2013 due to Alzheimer’s disease, and that an estimated 89,000 persons age 65 and older will have the disease this year. These numbers will grow to 99,000 by 2020 and 120,000 by 2025.

Among Alzheimer’s warning signs are memory changes, challenges in planning or solving problems, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion, misplacing things, an inability to retrace steps, decreased or poor judgments, withdrawal from work or social activities, and mood and personality changes.

Blacks are twice as likely as Whites to get Alzheimer’s, said local nurse Beverly Propes, a member of two local Alzheimer’s action teams named for the late Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller (1872-1953), the first Black psychiatrist and neurologist in the United States who made significant contributions to Al zheimer’s Disease research. They’ve held two community forums in February at Heritage Park Senior Services Center (Feb. 19) and St. James AME Church in St. Paul (Feb. 26).

Dorothea Harris
Dorothea Harris

Alzheimer’s “is not reversible” and signs of dementia are often “mimicked” in other ways, but no one is immune from getting the disease, said Volunteers of America Caregiver Support Services Program Manager Dorothea Harris. “The number-one risk factor is age,” noted the licensed social worker. “I work only with African Americans. That’s my target audience. I’m very proud and honored to work with our people.”

Harris and Propes were scheduled speakers at an April 11 memory loss and aging meeting at Wayman AME Church in North Minneapolis.

“There are about 700 [persons] that are at high risk” who live in the Minneapolis 55411 and 55412 zip codes, continued Propes, adding that elderly Blacks who suffer from memory loss too often aren’t diagnosed early enough. “It’s not to think about that person as crazy, but they are going through memory loss,” she warned.

Juanita Williams took care of her late husband for most of the 10 years after he was diagnosed with memory loss, “but [his] last three years became too difficult because it was getting worse,” forcing her to put him in an assisted care facility. She now helps facilitate the Lill’s Angels memory loss support group on the third Friday afternoon of each month at Sumner Library in North Minneapolis.

Venoreen Boatswain-Browne’s husband is now in an assisted living facility. “I have no guilt putting him there because I couldn’t manage him anymore,” she says, adding that she and her family didn’t believe that he could get Alzheimer’s at age 55 when he was diagnosed. “When I see the decline [in him], it is hard to take,” she admitted.

MSR Editor-in-Chief Vickie Evans-Nash’s mother also lives in a local assisted living facility. She and her siblings first discovered their mom’s memory loss when she routinely misplaced her apartment keys. “We were calling the building every other month to ask for keys,” said Evans-Nash.

Many Blacks don’t want their loved ones in nursing homes. “We tried to get around that by my mom living with us,” recalled Evans-Nash, but her mother wasn’t happy “because she wanted to live on her own. She wanted her own place. ”

Evans-Nash continued: “People think that you use assisted living or a nursing home because you don’t want to be bothered. But what do you do when you know that person is not happy and they want to continue on their own for as long as they can?”

Both Propes and Harris talked to the MSR after their meeting at Wayman. “We want people to know that this is a disease that has various stages, and we as a people need to recognize that we are at risk for it,” said Propes.

A Black family from Minneapolis that is among Harris’ clients will be featured on Caring for Mom & Dad, a PBS special that will be shown May 10 at 2 pm on TPT Channel 2.

“I think it is more prevalent than we even imagined,” concluded Harris. “I think that it is real important that we get a good understanding and a good handle on the warning signs, because our later-stage diagnosis is crippling us from being able to participate in some of the medication that is helpful.”


Next: Look for part two of this story on Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers on next week.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.