We love Memory Sunday! Why? Because it is a day to talk about our brains, living (and living well) with memory loss, and support for caregivers. Understanding how our brain works and knowing how to take good care of our brain is critical for healthy living as we age.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia in older adults and is a growing epidemic across the globe. It is estimated that there are approximately 44 million people worldwide who are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia. In the United States, an estimated 6.2 million Americans currently have the disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the country, the third leading cause of death in Washington state, and the third leading cause of death in King County. The number is likely to double by year 2050.
Alzheimer’s disproportionately burdens women, African Americans, Latinx Americans, and American Indians. Among people ages 65 and older, African Americans have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (13.8 percent), followed by Hispanics (12.2 percent), and non-Hispanic whites (10.3 percent), American Indian and Alaska Natives (9.1 percent), and Asian and Pacific Islanders (8.4 percent). Although the risks associated with developing AD are multifactorial, the greatest risk factor is aging.
What is Memory Sunday?
Memory Sunday is an annual event recognized within many African American faith communities, typically on the second Sunday in June (Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Awareness Month) or the day prior. The purpose of Memory Sabbath or Memory Sunday is for participating congregations to provide education and resource materials on Alzheimer’s prevention, treatment, research, and caregiver support. Faith-based organizations have an essential role in mobilizing communities and individuals in understanding and participating in activities that support caregivers.
The Memory Sunday initiative was founded by the National Brain Health Center for African Americans, a program component of The Balm in Gilead—an organization that for over 30 years has worked to prevent disease and improve the health status of people of African descent by providing support to faith organizations and other institutions that work to eliminate health disparities. The National Brain Health Center for African Americans offers a Memory Sunday Toolkit and other resources for African American congregations. The toolkit can be found on the National Institute on Aging website.
Supporting all caregivers
Caring for a loved one with dementia is hard enough during normal times. The pandemic has forced the closure of vital programs that provide respite and support for caregivers. Without these services, many caregivers feel especially anxious, frightened, and extremely isolated. According a 2020 Needs Assessment conducted by the NORC at the University of Chicago, caregivers’ major needs and concerns are getting information and referral services, respite care, and preventing elder abuse and neglect.
Washington is home to more than 800,000 caregivers. In 2017, more than 340,000 unpaid caregivers were caring for someone with dementia. For many, the demands of caregiving and stress increase susceptibility to disease and health complications.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing orders, many faith communities turned to providing services online, making face-to-face outreach for Memory Sunday and Memory Sabbath impossible. Instead, participating churches were asked to provide time for a special prayer for all caregivers, and especially those whose loved ones have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. This year, we ask participating faith communities to set aside time again, including information about available community resources.
Did you know that African Americans are two times more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than the non-Hispanic white population? The Washington State Dementia Action Collaborative (DAC) wants to raise awareness about this health disparity, institutional racism, the specific factors that contribute to higher risk, and things we can do to address it. To spur action, the DAC created a new action brief—African Americans and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Call to Action for Organizations—that includes ways that any type of organization can work with, serve, and support African Americans living with dementia and their families.
“Seeing the expected 83 percent increase in the African American older adult population in this document was striking to me—and relevant for what we need to do,” said Sara Franklin, chair of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. “It makes me think about the access to resources that will be needed in Washington state.”
In this brief, you will learn about some of the factors that contribute to health disparity. For example, institutional racism leads to multiple factors that put African Americans at greater risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, such as education and income inequities, limited or no access to decent health care, stress, and untreated high blood pressure and diabetes.
At the same time, the brief offers hope and a way forward. It shares strategies that various organizations can use to help improve brain health and support for older African Americans. A unique facet of the action brief is the real-life examples of actions you and your organization could take—both small and large—to help.
“I really like that it calls out a broad range of different types of organizations,” continued Commissioner Franklin. “It shows that all these different organizations have a role to play, and it is especially important for black churches to be included.”
Wherever you are and whatever you may be doing on June 12 and 13, you are invited to join Memory Sabbath or Sunday by remembering those caregivers whose loved ones are experiencing Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
For more information about the Dementia Action Collaboration’s African American Alzheimer’s Fact Sheet, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributors Kim Boon and Karen Winston are both active with the Washington State Dementia Action Collaborative. Kim is a dementia care services program manager with the Washington State Aging and Long-Term Support Administration. Karen is a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services.