Holding Black Men’s Brain conference during Super Bowl week no coincidence
The Alzheimer’s Association, the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University, the NFL Alumni Association, and the National Institute on Aging are among the sponsors of the second annual Black Men’s Brain Health Conference, scheduled for Feb. 8-9 at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. The two-day conference will examine how various risk factors contribute to Black men’s higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other brain disorders, and also will explore how the brain’s ability to adapt to significant sources of stress affects Black men’s cognitive health.
The in-person and virtual conference being staged during Super Bowl week—in the Glendale, Arizona-area where the game will be played—is not coincidental, according to George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences Assistant Professor Robert W. Turner II.
“We know that there’s no bigger event in the world than the Super Bowl, particularly in America,” Turner, a former pro football player, told the MSR. “Why is it that all of us who have played are not exposed to the same factors that can lead to CTE and other forms of neurodegenerative diseases, but others are?
“What can we learn from each other by studying this group that will help protect us, will minimize our risk and help really focus on what makes us resilient. That’s why we decided to do this,” said Turner.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2022 Facts and Figures report, Black Americans are about twice as likely as White Americans to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Because of missed diagnoses, older Blacks also suffer from this disease and other health issues more than older Whites.
Alzheimer’s disease is also growing in Minnesota and projected to rise, according to the national organization’s fact sheet:
- 99,000 people aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s in Minnesota.
- Almost nine percent of those aged 45 and older have subjective cognitive decline.
- 171,000 family caregivers statewide bear the burden of the disease.
- 156 million hours of unpaid care is provided by Alzheimer’s caregivers.
- $905 million is the estimated cost of Alzheimer’s to the state Medicaid program.
Black Americans and Alzheimer’s:
- Only 48 percent of Blacks report being confident they can access culturally competent care.
- Only 53 percent of Blacks believe that a cure will be distributed fairly without regard to race.
- Only 35 percent of Blacks say they are concerned about Alzheimer’s or dementia.
- A reported 65 percent of Black Americans say they know somebody with Alzheimer’s or dementia, but 55 percent think that significant loss of cognitive abilities or memory is a natural part of aging rather than a disease.
Last year’s conference had nearly 700 people sign up for the virtual sessions and over 200 people attended in person, reported Turner. “This year we expect to exceed that number,” he predicted.
The conference title is also intentional, continued Turner. “We call it the Black Men’s Brain Health Conference, not mental health conference,” he explained. “We say what is good for the heart is also good for the head. We’re concerned about the long-term impact of head injury, both concussions in sports and then also folks that have been in the military that have been exposed to blasts, and how that might impact head injury.
“Do you know that Black men, older Black men suffer higher rates of concussions from falls than other groups?” Turner asked. “Is there something about our physical makeup that makes it the case? We cover all of those issues.
“We’re doing it from the perspective of trying to understand by bringing together researchers, clinicians, doctors, practitioners, as well as members of the community and community organizations, so we can all talk to one another. What’s going on? What are the challenges?
“How can we conduct research on this together, build research together so that we can find solutions and work with funders to design interventions that are most-suited for our community, in our community. That’s the whole purpose of the conference,” Turner said.
The scheduled panel discussions include women talking about resiliency, current and former NFL players, and how the criminal justice and judicial system are risks for Black men’s brain health.
“It’d be the first conference that is dealing with those specific issues,” said Turner, who can also share his experiences with the disease as a scheduled presenter. He currently is a caregiver for his father, who is suffering from dementia.
“When my mom recently passed, my dad needed care. So I moved back to my hometown, in the home that I grew up in, to be my dad’s primary caregiver,” the professor explained. “We have some additional resources, but my dad needs 24-hour care at home. We take him to an adult daycare, but we need professional help to help us manage his everyday care.”
In addition to identifying strategies to reduce cognitive health diseases among Black men, the conference will also seek to identify strategies for increasing Black men’s participation in dementia research and clinical trials. Black Americans currently make up five percent or less of all clinical trial participants, and nearly two-thirds of Blacks (62%) believe that medical research is biased against Blacks and people of color, says the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It’s a very complex issue,” stated Turner. “No question medical mistrust, mistrust of the whole healthcare industry, is a prominent factor in Blacks and Black folks’ health behavior. I also think that health literacy is really an important factor.
“If we don’t go to the doctor, they don’t have your medical history,” Turner pointed out. He added that without that personal history, “We don’t want to receive the same type of treatment that is designed for people…who don’t have the same health risks that we do,” he said.
“I think it is very important, very influential in how we reach people, how we speak to people,” he said. “[We need] to bring people together so they can talk to one another, so they can hear one another.”
Conference registration is free and is available for both in-person and virtual attendance. The public can register at www.mensbrainhealth.org/conference.