Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a number expected to triple by the year 2050. Alzheimer’s disease is twice as common among African-Americans than non-Hispanic whites.

“People don’t know about a lot of these Alzheimer’s statistics because in our community we say, ‘Oh, it’s old age. It’s senility.’ We think that our older parents are just forgetful,” Barbara McKinney, Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin Diversity Coordinator, tells Madison365. “The educational piece in our community is so critically important and early diagnosis is important, as well. A contributor to the incidence of diagnosis so late in our community is that we self-report so late. We call it everything else.

“The education part helps us self-report earlier so families recognize the symptoms – significant things where people are not able to take care of themselves and their personal hygiene and to feed themselves; something that’s interrupting their daily way of living,” she adds. “That’s when we should be really looking out for if there is something more than just aging.”

Barbara McKinney

To increase awareness of Alzheimer’s disease in the African-American community and to provide education and resources to encourage a brain-healthy lifestyle, McKinney is helping to organize the Solomon Carter Fuller Brain Health Brunch on March 16.

This annual event, hosted by the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin (ADAW), with sponsorship from the Wisconsin Geriatric Education Center, has traditionally been held at an African-American church in the Madison community. This Saturday, it will be hosted at the Wyndham Garden Hotel, 2969 Cahill Main in Fitchburg. The event is the brainchild of former ADAW Diversity Coordinator Charlie Daniel.

“We moved the event out of the church because we knew it had the capacity to be a cornerstone of African-American people taking ownership of Alzheimer’s and Dementia in our communities,” McKinney says. “This is important because Alzheimer’s is one of those diagnoses that when people realize that there is no cure, they start acting that way. What we want them to know is that there is so much life and vitality even with the diagnosis. It’s really about the education and awareness of brain health and how food and exercise and controlling all of those additional health disparities that we as African Americans have.”

The event, named after Solomon Carter Fuller, the nation’s first African-American psychiatrist and a pioneer in Alzheimer’s disease research, will also include a community brunch, research updates, memory screenings, a wellness fair, a healthy cooking demo, and more. The Amazing Grace Chorus, a choir comprised of people living with memory impairment and caregivers, will perform during the program, which is free and open to the public.

“This event is a great way to celebrate Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller who is the first African-American psychiatrist who worked with Dr. Alzheimer but also to talk about brain health and the research part while getting the community involved,” McKinney says.

“That’s really the heart of what we’re trying to do is to say as a community that we recognize the devastation that Alzheimer’s can cause on families,” she adds. “Families are asking about what can we do to really understand not only the disease, but to understand how to work with loved ones who are going through the isolation that Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia brings about.”

This year’s Solomon Carter Fuller will kick off on Saturday with the inaugural 3-Mile Fun Walk which will be sponsored by Black Men Run, a non-profit dedicated to promoting physical activity in African-American men. Aaron Perry, president of the Madison chapter of Black Men Run, says that supporting daily physical activity is an integral part of brain health and a critical part of his organization’s cause.

“The fun run is a non-competitive 1-3 mile walk that provides an opportunity for participants to get in the required 30-45 minutes of daily physical activity,” Perry tells Madison365. “If you’re seeking to jump-start your fitness in time for spring, this is the event.”

The Fun Walk is from 7-9 a.m. Eventgoers are encouraged to walk or run at their own speed.

“We are so excited about this event and to be partnering with Aaron [Perry],” McKinney says. “What he has been doing is just fantastic. We are looking forward to this inaugural event and thank goodness the weather is getting warmer.

Dr. Carl Hill serves as the Director of the National Institute of Aging Office of Special Populations.

Throughout the day, there will be free confidential memory screenings, workshops for caregivers, and a wellness fair. Dr. Carl V. Hill of the National Institute of Health will present a keynote speech on healthy aging, brain health, and Alzheimer’s disease in the African American community. (Read more about Dr. Carl Hill here.)

“Judge Mitchell has agreed to be our emcee, which is phenomenal because what we’re also looking at is how churches create the necessary spaces where people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia can come into a setting and be safe,” McKinney says.

Rod Ladson
(Photo by Hedi Rudd)

Chef Rod Ladson, who passed away last July, was always popular at previous Solomon Carter Fuller Memory Screening events leading nutritional cooking demonstrations. He will be honored tonight at Bonefish Grill.

“On Thursday evening, we will be celebrating and honoring Chef Rod who was very, very instrumental in helping to do the healthy foods sampling portion,” McKinney says. “We will be honoring him with a plaque on Thursday evening at Bonefish Grille. I’m sure that will be a highly emotional event with his family members and so many friends. We get the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to his families for all of his contributions to the success of the event.”

The mission of the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin is to assist individuals, families, and professionals impacted by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias through support, education, and advocacy. Saturday’s event is free and open to the public.

“As much as we are looking forward to this year’s event, we are already looking ahead to the 10th anniversary of this event next year and to the future,” McKinney says. “Certainly, this event will continue to grow and the collaboration between the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin and our research partners is huge. This event really has the potential of being a stellar cornerstone of how the African-American community deals with Alzheimer’s.

“We, as communities of color, recognize that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there is a committed effort through research, community awareness to let people and their families know about Alzheimer’s,” she adds.

To register for the Solomon Carter Fuller Brain Health Brunch, call 608-232-3400 or register online at www.adrc.wisc.edu/SCF2019. Walk-in registration is also available at the event.