“Hope for the Heart of Our Community”: Honoring local efforts to help African Americans overcome the disproportionate burden of Alzheimer’s

June 18, 2020

Research, Clinical Care, Social Determinants of Health, Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, ADRC News

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month 2020, and the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center, in partnership with the UW Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, is honoring local efforts to help African Americans overcome the disproportionate burden of Alzheimer's. Today, we celebrate Karen Winston, MSW, a champion for equity in the areas of dementia and brain health.

When it comes to health disparities, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African-Americans has been widely documented. Social determinants of health, including limited access to nutritious food, proper housing and preventive health care, have contributed to health disparities in black and brown communities that put them at higher risk of dying in this pandemic. These determinants of health also affect brain health over a lifetime. In fact, older African Americans are twice as likely as older white people to have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Published last month, a new study supported by the National Institute on Aging suggests that the health effects of exposure to residential segregation throughout young adulthood may explain racial disparities in dementia risk in older age, pointing out the need to focus on social determinants of health in medical care and policy.

This month is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and our Center wants to recognize the heavier impact of the disease on African-American communities and caregivers, and their resilience in the face of racial inequality. But addressing disparities is not a one-time effort, and it will take ongoing, multi-faceted strategies. Today, we highlight a local, culturally tailored effort to spread dementia awareness and services. 

Karen Winston, MSW, acts as the City’s Liaison for the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders

A great example is Memory Sunday. Karen Winston, MSW, a Planner with Aging & Disability Services, launched the national Memory Sunday program in the Seattle area in 2018. This annual event in June equips congregations serving African Americans to provide education on Alzheimer’s prevention, treatment, research studies, and caregiver. Five faith communities participated in 2019. This year’s event on June 14 was unfortunately interrupted by COVID-19, although twelve local congregations have committed to giving a special blessing for dementia caregivers. You can read more about it in Winston's article, Memory Sunday Focuses on African-American Dementia Caregivers. 

Through her role, Winston has worked tirelessly to support older adults and people with disabilities, and she has spearheaded notable efforts to bring culturally tailored dementia awareness and support to African American communities. Another initiative is Legacy of Love, an annual African American Caregivers Forum. This unique, culturally-focused event has drawn hundreds of family caregivers from throughout the Pacific Northwest. Now in its 4th year, the event will take place online on Saturday, November 14.

Winston acts as the City’s Liaison for the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders, and she advised Mayor Norm Rice regarding creation of the African American Elders Project. Today, we know it as the African American Elders Program at Catholic Community Services, a partner of Community Living Connections in Seattle/King County. In the video Hope for the Heart of Our Community, Winston describes how she started the program and why it’s important to help vulnerable older adults maintain independence in their homes for as long as possible.

The MBWC has had the pleasure of crossing paths with Winston through many statewide initiatives, such as the Washington State Dementia Action Collaborative. She was an inaugural member of the UW MBWC Community Education and Impact advisory group, and she is a member of the statewide planning group for the upcoming conference, Collaborating for a Dementia-Friendly Washington: Inspiring Change. Winston is a champion for equity in the areas of dementia and brain health, and the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center honors her work and leadership!


Read more in this series:

Healing Hearts through the Power of Music: Today, we celebrate Pastor Patrinell “Pat” Wright of Seattle for extending joy to the memory loss community through song.

A Voice For Seattle’s Seniors: Today, we celebrate Brenda Charles-Edwards, a local businesswoman, senior advocate, and dementia champion.