Feb 142014

Dr_Monica-ParkerDuring Black History Month, the Alzheimer’s Association spoke with Dr. Monica Parker, an African-American family physician, caregiver and assistant professor of medicine about her passion for providing communities with local resources. The theme throughout all of her research and work in the field is simple: Education.

Board certified since 1990, Dr. Parker has practiced primary care and geriatric medicine in rural Georgia and urban Atlanta. Since 1995, she has been practicing with Emory Healthcare, often speaking on the importance of Alzheimer’s education. Dr. Parker has witnessed firsthand what needs to be done to get black communities involved in research through clinical trials.

“We need to educate and better equip our primary care providers,” states Dr. Parker. “If more providers are provided the tools to properly screen geriatric patients for dementia and given knowledge of community resources for their families, we will have better outcomes for the public. We need to better understand healthy aging overall.”

Dr. Parker stresses that education is key. She noticed that most of her upper-middle class white patients were being screened every year as part of a clinical research study at Emory’s Wesley Woods Center, and learning about better lifestyle habits. She knew that these same habits needed to be created and maintained in black communities.

“We needed – and need – to implore more people of color to become involved in clinical trials. We need them to complete memory assessments. Thankfully more and more people in the community have access to these opportunities. It is great to observe the excitement they have in becoming involved.”

Many people in the community were not involved in studies simply because they were not asked. “African-Americans are not unwilling. People were not aware of the need for study volunteers. In fact, African-Americans are very concerned with making things better for the next generation. They don’t want their children to face the same hurdles.”

African-Americans have a higher rate of vascular disease and are two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than whites, so the time to get involved is now. “The biggest issue is poorly-controlled vascular disease,” Dr. Parker says. “We know that there is a gene that creates a predisposition to Alzheimer’s. MRI’s can show brain infarcts, which are caused by poor brain blood flow. Hypertension, diabetes and hypercholesterolemia are risk factors for decreasing brain circulation commonly manifested as strokes, or TIA’s. Education keeps people aware of these risk factors and lets them know where to turn and what questions to ask.”

The call to action must be verbalized and disseminated throughout communities. “Churches are the first place people in the community go to seek help and comfort. Church may not be prepared to take on questions about Alzheimer’s and to provide the necessary support. Many smaller congregations have no formal adult daycare program. Pastors want to help identify people in the community that need assistance. They are now able to develop relationships with health providers and offices of Aging. Congregations have hosted forums to let people know what dementia is – and what it is not. In these programs, the average person learns where to obtain information to help cope.”

Since 2010, Dr. Parker and her team have developed community forums, funded  in part and supported  by the Alzheimer’s Association, to inform about the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and ongoing clinical studies. These studies have included an African-American Caregiver study, a study about normal women’s aging, and a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarker study comparing CSF of Caucasians and African Americans with family histories of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Parker and the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) have established these educational forums as one strategy that serves as an excellent mechanism for recruitment of volunteers for clinical studies.

According to Dr. Parker, many of the participants in the COOL-AD African-American Caregiver Education study in the Emory School of Nursing study viewed their participation as an opportunity for getting assistance and as a “service” provided by Emory – not simply as research.

One of the biggest and most immediate concerns still surrounding African-American research is the establishment of a national brain registry.  The Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center has had four African American families donate the brains of loved ones for the study of Alzheimer’s Disease in the last two years. These persons were active research participants before their deaths. This provided an opportunity to learn about their disease trajectory. The brain autopsy is important because the dementia observed may have a different pathologic origin in this population. Dr. Parker has a passion for this work, but she also knows that the decision to donate the brain of a parent or loved one is a difficult decision. Whether a person chooses to donate their brain for research or not, the more information provided to communities about the long-term value of these studies will result in more trials, further research and a possible cure that will secure the health of future generations.

Monica W. Parker, M.D., is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at Emory University. Dr. Parker participates in a biyearly lecture series funded by the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Dr. Parker received a National Institute of Health (NIH) Minority Supplement award to study dementia in ethnic persons in the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC). She also takes her lectures on the road through the Registry for Remembrance, an academic community partnership that helps educate and recruit African-Americans for long term research participation at the ADRC. She is currently a Co-PI on a 3.5 million dollar grant awarded to Emory School of Nursing by the NIH – National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR).

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  13 Responses to “Creating Awareness during Black History Month”

  1. I know Dr. Parker, and am familiar with some of her work related to Alzheimer's. She is to be commended for the work that she is doing, and for her passion for educating African Americans about Alzheier's disease. We need more people to get involved with this work. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association to see how you can sign up as an Advocate.

  2. I would most likely donate my brain for your studies for ADRC after i die, because im 59 years old & some times.i wonder if im at the stage of this disease, because i sometimes forget where igoing are, wherei live & is beginning to scare me to the point that i stay home more because of the memory lapse.

    Thanking You In Advance Ms Sallie Mae White

  3. There are many segments of Alzheimers that have a direct affect on African American Communities. One area that is of great concerns is that of Rural African American Veterans with Alzheimers. Usually these persons do not get the attention in that they have no transportation and often drop out of the VA System of Care and end up with local Health Systems at home with less than the care they actually need.

  4. I am so glad to see the Alzheimer Association addressing clinical trials and specifically posting the article written by Dr. Monica Parker. Dr. Parker was my Aunt's primary care physician prior to her entering Hospice Care and encouraged family members to attend educational seminars. I am an African-American, with a family history of this disease. My spouse and I are participants in one of Emory University Hospital's Alzheimer clinical trials. We are in our second year and the experience has been an eye opener. It is also comforting to know that through this process we have a better chance at identifying proactive steps to minimize our risks as well as early detection.

    With respect to brain autopsy, because my Aunt is an organ donor making the decision to support brain autopsy donation was not difficult for me but bothered other family members. However, Dr. Parker's endorsement of this process makes my role as caregiver and guardian easier as I navigate through all of the challenges associated with such a horrific illness.

    A very timely post!!

    • Thanks Wanda for your enlightening post. I have attended two of the educational seminars and feel better informed about this disease. I also participated in the COORS class. My husband is participating in a clinical trial. Bless you for this article and know that you are not alone in your journey.

  5. I can only thank God for a great daughter of Africa, Dr. Parker – she is an invaluable asset to humanity. I consider her an ambassador of Mama Africa to the civilized world.

    Some parts of the world my connive at Africa's rich history of civilization, but it stands as a bright star that can not be ignored.

  6. I am 63 black male living in the Baltimore area. I have tried to sign up for trials but don’t seem to have enough symptoms yet. What for these trials look for?

  7. My mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer. I look forward to a cure for this dreadful disease.

  8. Volunteer Member St. Charles Missouri Alzheimer’s Walk for the Cure

    Committee 2011-2014. My best friend got me involved with the organization after she helped establish the St Charles committee. Her mother had been diagnosied with Alheimers. My best friend has now been stricken with this life destroying disease. I’m even more committed to doing what ever I can to find a cure.

  9. So pleased with this wonderful work to help with the process of understanding and helping to end Alzheimer’s Dementia through research family and Community involvement

  10. Great article. I met Dr. Parker last year and am glad she is leading discussions and educating our community about this dreadful disease.

  11. I admire Dr Parker because she becomes the god for many Alzheimer's patient. Once I read like he is her last stage of research about this deadly disease and you are a great inspiration for many people. Really need to thank each and every organisations like Prestige care Inc in Vancouver who is giving their maximum support to their patients.

  12. All of us should put effort and energy into raising awareness regarding the importance of education. Good education opens doors and should therefore be encouraged. Let's all follow Dr. Parker's example and so what we can about it.

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