Programs Help Community Cope with Alzheimer’s
By Dianne Anderson
Watching a parent or grandparent lose their memory and their judgment is hard enough, but for family members that step up to the task of the caretaker, it can cause burnout, fatigue, and financial burden.
Like other health areas, Alzheimer’s strikes the Black and Brown community harder, with obstacles to access help.
Enter the Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s where students provide services, giving caretakers a break for a little more time for themselves.
Natashia Townsend, Director of Caregiving Programs, is calling for the community to get signed up, informed and access more services for loved ones with dementia.
“As Black people, we do not consider ourselves as a family caregiver. We’re just the daughter taking care of the parent, or the relative, but I want them to know that they can seek help,” she said.
Through programming, students connect with clients on virtual video calls, and work with cognitive stimulating curriculum written by UCLA. Online, those with dementia engage with students, games, music and Facetime conversation.
There is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but Townsend said that many local resources are available to help caregivers cope with loved ones struggling with dementia.
She said the programming can hopefully prevent more memory loss.
.“We know we cannot undo what’s already been done, but what we’re trying to do is engage them,” Townsend said, adding the nonprofit partners with the USC School of Gerontology volunteers to help facilitate one of their programs.
Because African Americans tend not to see themselves as caregivers, they’re overwhelmed without resources, and take care of family members without compensation.
It takes a heavy toll.
“They are very stressed out, they have to quit their job or cut their job hours and that equates to wage loss. There are so many different hardships that come with being a caregiver for someone who has dementia,” she said.
The nonprofit also advocates legislation for equal access to health services. She said patients frequently are not covered by insurance for lack of medical proof of a history of diagnosis.
“Many caregivers are not receiving social security for their loved ones,” she said. “There’s a big push to get caregivers more rights.”
Another misunderstanding is that dementia is an elderly disease, but Townsend said that Latinos, for instance, deal with a specific early-onset starting in their 30s or 40s.
The good news is that caregivers are getting savvier with technology lately as they meet doctors and providers online. Many caregivers already have an iPad or tablet pre-loaded with Zoom and know how to log on to access video calls twice a week with her youth volunteers.
Townsend is now inviting caregivers to sign up to get help with services, and coping strategies, and learn more about the disease.
She is concerned that some of the disconnect of the Black community from seeking health services stems from the dark history of disappointment within the medical system.
“The system has taken advantage of them or they were discriminated against, or they don’t feel like they’re supposed to speak out,” she said. “I want them to know we have programs for them and we can refer them to other resources in their specific community.”
Taking care of someone diagnosed with the disease can be very overwhelming, but Alzheimer’s Los Angles, a nonprofit that partners with Townsend, offers several services, care counseling, education resources, and free caregiver courses online.
Petra Niles is also inviting the Long Beach community to access services. They have volunteers and support groups to answer questions about resources and planning around care.
“We connect them with services if there is an issue with social security, and don’t know what to do, or experiencing some behaviors, what are the strategies to continue the care,” said Niles, senior manager, African American Services, Education & Dementia Care Networks
Niles, who holds a master’s degree in gerontology, said that diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol is very high in the Black community, and it impacts the entire body. She believes that diet and a healthy lifestyle, and regular exercise have a big role to play.
“Eventually it affects the brain,” she said. “We don’t think of the health from the head down, we think of it from the neck down. It’s important to consider that we only get one brain.”
Eating to live — not living to eat — means including fresh fruits and vegetables and a mindset to get the best nutrients to lead a healthy life, she adds. The other aspect is having the right attitude.
“Many seniors have survived a lot, not just in the African American community but throughout the world, the Holocaust, wars in Liberia, places in Africa. How do they survive? The body can adapt,” she said.
Her organization offers a variety of support groups and want to connect more with Black churches in Long Beach. Interested organizations can feel free to reach out for availability or to schedule presentations.
She emphasizes that Alzheimer’s awareness is not just good for caretakers or the elderly, but for every age group.
“It’s not just for your parents, baby boomers are just as at risk, and need to pay attention. We will be doing a lot more around brain health and the African American community,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
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For information, see www.alzla.org Or, call 844.435.7259