Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III recalled when he and his wife went to the doctor in February 2010 and discovered she had early-onset dementia.
Today, with his wife, Christa “Cis” Beverly, now suffering from Alzheimer’s, Baker credits their three children for telling him to speak publicly about the disease that’s taken away Beverly’s speech and mobility.
“As soon as we made the announcement, many came up to me and said, ‘Thank you,’” he said during a Sept. 28 panel about communities of color dealing with the disease during the National Alzheimer’s Summit in northwest D.C. “You can’t solve those problems if they don’t come out. We need to get pass that and get to the solutions.”
After Baker spoke, Loretta Woodward of Clinton hugged and thanked Baker for speaking about his family. Woodward cares for her 87-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia.
“Other than that, she’s healthy,” Woodward said of her mother. “Nothing else is wrong with her. After hearing his story, he really encouraged me to come out and do a lot of things with my mother in public. I come out here to advocate for more resources for my mother and others who need it.”
The three-day summit, which wrapped Sept. 29 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, focuses on combating the disease that affects nearly 50 million worldwide, a number that could possibly triple by 2050.
Communities of color continue to face dire consequences and lack of treatment, organizers said.
Stephanie Monroe, executive director of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s African Americans Against Alzheimer’s network in D.C., said the majority of blacks with the disease live in the South.
“That’s where the older Black people go to retire,” Monroe said after the one-hour panel discussion. “That’s where we don’t have enough resources. That’s where a history of discrimination is. We have to reach people where they are.”
Besides lack of resources for clinical research in black communities, some aren’t willing to accept or discuss how Alzheimer’s strictly affects overall health, said Monroe, whose father was diagnosed a few years ago with vascular dementia, which can occur after a series of strokes. Those with high blood pressure and high cholesterol can also suffer from this form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
One idea focuses on making communities and business more mental health-friendly, specifically through the Dementia Friendly America initiative to bring awareness about the disease and similar maladies.
In Minnesota, at least seven counties have communities and businesses that post “dementia-friendly” signs and posters. Training and workshops are provided for employees and merchants’ clients to understand the signs of Alzheimer’s, including memory loss, difficulty solving problems and failure to comprehend time and place.
Baker said Prince George’s will be part of the AFA network led by former Maryland state Sen. Gloria Lawlah.
But an initiative of such magnitude needs money, which Baker will help raise by participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Bowie on Saturday. According to the event’s website, more than $86,000 has been raised so far, nearly all of the $88,000 target.
“We take the resources we have and take it out to the community,” Baker said. “We need to [have] heightened awareness … for people who have special needs … and their caregivers to be comfortable coming to an event like this.”