By Angel Collie, Graduate Research Assistant – University of North Florida (UNF) Preventing Alzheimer’s with Cognitive Training (PACT) – Growing up in Nassau, Bahamas, my Grampy owned a convenience store that my cousins and I would visit every day after school before closing at 5 pm. Eventually, Grampy started arriving home later than expected which my family and I did not mind at first. However, he would also sometimes leave the shop unlocked after closing. We later learned that this was because he had forgotten to lock up his store and could not remember his way back home.
In 2009, Grampy was diagnosed with dementia at 69 years old. At the time of Grampy’s diagnosis, I was 9 years old and had no idea what this meant. Much of what I remember was Grampy sitting in his living room chair and me being afraid to talk to him. Knowing about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia today, I would have responded differently with Grampy than I did at 9 years old.
Grampy has inspired me to pursue a career to better understand how younger generations view dementia. Now at 23 years old, one of my goals are to study these attitudes to increase education on dementia and reduce negative attitudes.
My position at the Preventing Alzheimer’s with Cognitive Training (PACT) study as a Graduate Research Assistant allows me to educate myself on health conditions like dementia and the importance of brain health. As I grew up in The Bahamas, I witnessed how people dismissed early symptoms of dementia as a natural part of aging, a misconception commonly shared among groups like African Americans. However, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease significantly impact African Americans. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that African Americans are twice as likely to be affected by Alzheimer’s compared to Whites. Despite this increased risk, African Americans are less likely to be diagnosed and are underrepresented in clinical research designed to learn how to prevent or slow its progression.
The PACT study focuses on prevention of Alzheimer’s and is a behavioral intervention (non-pharmaceutical) study, which I think is very important. People need to know what to do before symptoms of memory loss begins. They need to have options that they can do at home which do not require a prescription from a doctor or healthcare provider. The PACT team is also working to be sure that our participants represent the Jacksonville community and we are including people from various cultures and ethnicities who are usually underserved and underrepresented in clinical trials. I am grateful that I can connect with the African American community in Jacksonville through my work at PACT. PACT has provided me an outlet to educate the community about dementia to help reduce negative attitudes and promote healthy aging.
As I continue my career path, I hope to honor Grampy through my work. I plan to pursue a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology to further understand health disparities and increase representation of African Americans, my community in the Bahamas, and other racial groups in clinical research. Through this journey, I wish to make a difference and ensure that our community’s needs are met so that future studies and interventions are more inclusive, and that we learn more ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
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