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Tigist Hailu, coordinator for diversity in research at the Penn Memory Center, views the exhibit of “Portraits of Alzheimer’s Caregivers” by Raymond Holman Jr. The Penn Memory Center located at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine displayed the exhibit last year.

— ABDUL SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

The Penn Memory Center is striving to combat Alzheimer’s disease in the African-American community.

The focus on Alzheimer’s comes as the disease is the fourth leading cause of death among African Americans, according to health officials.

The Penn Memory Center is where individuals can come for evaluation and treatment for systems of age-related memory loss. The center also offers patients and their families the opportunity to participate in research studies including the evaluation of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, new diagnostic techniques and quality of life studies.

“Alzheimer’s affects the African American two times more than the Caucasian community, so it’s definitely important to have volunteers from underrepresented communities,” said Tigist Hailu, coordinator for diversity in research, Penn Memory Center.

Hailu has expanded the center’s reach into the community by hosting presentations about Alzheimer’s at community centers, health fairs and senior centers.

The center has embarked on a number of initiatives to increase awareness of the disease including the creation of two videos — “Penn Memory Center in the Community” and “I Am a Caregiver.”

“We’re increasing awareness. We’re increasing engagement and we’re also increasing action,” Hailu said.

Recently, the center collaborated with the African American Network Against Alzheimer’s to host a play titled “Forget Me Not” at the Freedom Theater. The play, directed by Garret Davis, showed how devastating Alzheimer’s is to those affected by the disease and their caregivers. A panel discussion was held during the event which highlighted ongoing research at Penn and other medical centers and the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The center has hosted the “Portraits of Alzheimer’s Caregivers” by photographer Raymond Holman Jr. The exhibit features more than 20 portraits of people who were dedicated to caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other related dementia.

A community advisory board was recently created which provides advice about the direction the center should take in terms of educating the community about Alzheimer’s disease and how to increase the diversity of research participants.

“It’s definitely a diverse group, and they bring a lot to the table,” Hailu said. “They have been very crucial with advising us how to better move forward with better engaging African Africans in research.”

Community advisory board member Elise Shelton has been instrumental establishing a relationship between the Penn Memory Center and her church, First Corinthian Baptist Church located in West Philadelphia.

The Penn Memory hosted a successful cognitive health fair at the church in the fall. The center has also held two seminars at the church to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms and its impact on families. A caregiver’s support group has been established at the church.

“What we want to do is make families aware that there is help for the person who is doing the care giving,” said Shelton, whose 77-year old aunt has Alzheimer’s. “I know of families who do not know enough to know what to do. So many families see the symptoms of Alzheimer’s coming on, and some still think it’s just a part of getting old.”

About 1,400 patients visited the center in 2015 and that number is expected to increase, according to Felicia Greenfield, associate director of clinical and research operations at the Penn Memory Center.

The center offers a six-week class titled “Caring for the Caregiver” for a family member or a spouse who are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. The course offers practical skills for caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and teaches caregivers how to better care for themselves.

“We know that caregivers are at a higher risk of health problems, stress, depression and anxiety, because they are caring for someone else while trying to perhaps raise a family or continue to work full time” Greenfield said.

The center recently brought a new care manager on board to provide services for patients with memory disorders. The care manager does a needs assessment of the patient and provides an individualized care plan.

The center is currently participating in a landmark Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s (the A4 study) study that is investigating a drug intervention that may reduce the impact of a protein known as amyloid in the brain. Scientists believe that elevated amyloid may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease-related mental deterioration.

For more information visit www.pennadc.org.

ajones@phillytrib.com

(215) 893-5747

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