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Advocate for Alzheimer’s Education Pushes for African Americans to Learn About the Disease

Patti Singer

Tamara Minter volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Association and encourages people to learn all they can about dementias. Provided by Tamara Minter

Consider this your personal invitation from Tamara Minter, a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association Rochester & Finger Lakes Chapter.

Because with a disease such as Alzheimer’s, she has found the best way to encourage people to attend educational events is to ask them directly.

“Someone has reached out to that person and that person will say, ‘Maybe I think I will go,’” said Minter who last June used the power of her network to host an Alzheimer’s event at her church in Chili. “The personal contact is so important.”

Now she is extending invitations to the annual Dr. Lemuel and Gloria Rogers Health Symposium, which brings awareness to the African American community of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Topics include research, care for people with the disease and their families and ways to use lifestyle and other preventive methods to reduce the risk of developing dementia.

The symposium runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 5 at the Edgerton Community Center, 41 Backus St. The event is free and includes a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and a hot lunch.

The keynote speaker is Carl Hill, vice president for scientific engagement with the national Alzheimer’s Association. He oversees strategic efforts to create global awareness of the Association’s international research program.

Registration prior to the event is requested and seats can be reserved by calling (800) 272-3900. At the event, staff members from the Alzheimer’s Association will offer activities in a separate room for people with dementia.

The symposium is named for a prominent African American couple.

“Both of them I knew,” Minter said. “I’m just trying to make sure the community attends the event and that we don’t lose focus of how important these two lives were to the community of Rochester, and how other people can get information. Gloria was an educator. Dr. Rogers knew he had the disease and allowed the symposium to be named in his honor.”

Gloria Rogers died in 2011. Dr. Rogers died in 2015. Both died from dementia-related causes.

Alzheimer’s also is close to Minter’s heart because she watched what the disease did to her great-grandmother, who died in 1972 at the age of 92.

“I see the struggle that people have,” Minter said. “Physically, she was strong. Mentally, she had gone back to a very infantile state.”

Minter said that if her grandmother and mother had lived longer, they also might have developed the disease.

Older African Americans are about twice as likely than whites to develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Variations in health, lifestyle and socioeconomic factors across racial groups likely account for most of the differences by race. African Americans have greater risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, all of which are associated with increased risk for dementia.

Minter said she reduces her own risk by staying physically active. There is little that can get her to miss one of her three Zumba classes a week.

“Movement is very important,” said the retired educator who worked in the Rochester City School District.

She said she knows women her age and older who have conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, but who aren’t getting regular exercise. “They have to push that piece about exercise.”

Hill will lead a panel discussion at 1 p.m. that includes family therapist Shanice Aluko of the University of Rochester Medical Center and Afeez Hazzan, an assistant professor at The College at Brockport who is researching dementia caregivers.

Among the topics in his keynote address, Hill is expected to cover how researchers are working with African-American communities on ways to promote healthier lifestyles.

He said Alzheimer’s is a public health priority. In addition to the nearly 6 million Americans living with the disease, 16 million people — mostly family members – provide unpaid care.

“There’s a need for more and more information,” said Hill, who holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “One of our primary jobs is to be sure we are providing the most up to date information for communities like African-Americans so that individuals can act.”

Hill said he also will talk about progress in research and how individuals can get involved in clinical trials. While his talk is coming after Black History Month, he said he does want to make people aware of the early research contributions by Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, the first African American psychiatrist.

In Hill’s blog on the Alzheimer’s Association website, he wrote about Fuller’s work with Dr. Alois Alzheimer, for whom the disease is named.

“There’s this legacy of inclusion and diversity on the part of Alzheimer’s research from the start,” Hill said. “African American researchers that live in Rochester, that are thinking of pursuing a career in investigating Alzheimer’s, they should be inspired by by legacy of Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller. We should be passionate about including and recruiting African Americans to participate in clinical trials because of this legacy.”