Recent data published by a group that focuses on research, care and education related to forms of dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association, points to a disturbing yet rarely discussed fact: older Blacks develop Alzheimer’s at a rate higher than any other group of elderly Americans. We’re twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to fall victim to the disease or other forms of dementia. And we aren’t alone as Hispanics are 1½ times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to succumb to dementia. Thus, while the average life span for Americans has increased, many older Blacks and Hispanics will inevitably come face-to-face with this mysterious, debilitating disease along its economic and social impact that for a growing number of families has yielded devastating results.
I had my first personal encounter with Alzheimer’s two years ago. It was something that I wouldn’t wish upon even my most ardent enemy. My stepfather, ironically once a prominent psychiatrist, seemed to have been catapulted into a world where time moved backwards, becoming more childlike as his mind, memories and even knowing how to perform the most basic of skills, slipped from his grasp a little more each day. In the last six months before his death, he became someone who we often could barely recognize. But my mother and I remained in the battle, celebrating his rare moments of lucidity, refusing to give up. Now, I am facing that same demon again it seems, caring for my mother, a heralded children’s educator whose sharp, witty mind has now come under assault.
Meanwhile, President Trump has proposed to cut billions in funding for the National Institutes of Health and their sister organization, the National Institute on Aging, despite the collective being on the forefront of Alzheimer’s research and treatment. And no one seems to care.
Since the numbers are not on our side, I don’t understand why the Black community hasn’t spoken up. Why haven’t we insisted that the government launch a public health initiative as we have seen for cancer? Where are the Black churches, Black fraternities and Black sororities? Why isn’t Alzheimer’s at the top of their agendas?
A few days ago, my mom said with great resolve, “I’m ready to die. I’m tired of being pushed and pulled. I’m tired of not understanding and being so confused.” As you can imagine, her words shook me to the core. And while I was inclined to host my own pity party, I knew that every moment was precious. So, I wiped the tears away and did what Mom used to always tell me in the toughest of times: “Spit in your hands and take a fresh hold.”
That’s why I’m not giving up. I’m stepping up my game, revising my strategy and calling in the reserves, enlisting the services and support of a few more of my friends and family members. Trump and the Republicans may want to pretend that my mother, along with millions of other Blacks and Hispanics, are invisible, but I know otherwise. Even if I must move forward in the guise of a one-man army, I’m on a mission and have much work to do.
We, my Black brothers and sisters, must become our own ally. We cannot allow the antics of Congress and the White House to distract us. Let the trumpet sound: We are Not Invisible.