I have Alzheimer’s disease running though both sides of my family and have experienced firsthand the pain and suffering created for everyone caught up in the wake of this devastating disease. On my mother’s side was Aunt Doris, affectionately called Tee-Tee, the very essence of vibrancy and love. She was a second mother to me, a big sister to my mother, a woman who did everything to help and uplift others—until one day she could no longer do so. Dementia slowly stole her sense of self until she became a shell of the loving and animated person she used to be. While she had underlying conditions, like diabetes and ultimately cancer, her struggle with dementia accelerated her decline. She passed away at 77.
Grandma Estella, my father’s mother, developed Alzheimer’s at 69. She was our beloved matriarch, a pillar of strength and unwavering faith. This superwoman raised 13 children, but she was powerless against Alzheimer’s. This deadly disease robbed her of all autonomy and made her dependent on her daughter, Amedia, who put her life on hold for years, to care for our grandmother. First to go were her memories, the ability to do mundane tasks, her speech, and eventually her ability to recognize any of us. Her 20-year ordeal was a financial and emotional burden on the family and ultimately cost our grandmother her life. But our experience brought us closer together and underscores the importance of having a strong support system.
Since witnessing the impact of Alzheimer’s and dementia on my family, I have learned that black and brown people face increased risk for developing these conditions. It’s one of the reasons I support the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) at Cleveland Clinic, where I am part of a program teaching me lifestyle changes to help prevent or delay Alzheimer’s from claiming my life, too. I’m proud to work with an organization that funds gender-based, neurological research. I believe this information will help change the trajectory of my family’s health for generations to come. Please join me in supporting WAM to help change the future for families like mine throughout the country and the world.