by Frederick H. Lowe
Staff Writer, The NorthStar News & Analysis
The African American Network Against Alzheimer’s is promoting a stage play that raises awareness about the debilitating and deadly disease, which is growing rapidly in the black community. Alzheimer’s is characterized by a progressive loss of brain function.
“Forget Me Not” or the “Forget Me Not Project,” a six-person play portrays a black family’s realization that their father is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The disease affects the father’s immediate family, many of whom become his caregivers.
Alzheimer’s also affects his neighbors and the community as a whole, Stephanie Monroe, director of the African American Network Against Alzheimer’s, told The NorthStar News & Analysis. The play has an all-black cast.
The play’s purpose is both to entertain and to educate, Monroe said. The African American Network Against Alzheimer’s wants more blacks to participate in clinical trials in which researchers are attempting to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. So far, however, the participation rate has been very low.
“About 3 percent to 5 percent of blacks participate in clinical trials,” Monroe said. “We are 14 percent of the U.S. population, and we should have a much higher number of African Americans involved in the trials.”(see today’s video).
She said black participation is very important. “We don’t want researchers to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s that does not work for African Americans,” Monroe said.
She admits it is difficult to persuade blacks to volunteer because many believe they should be paid for their time.
Older blacks, 65 years older and older—-prime candidates for the clinical trials—- may not want to participate due to the horrific legacy of the Tuskegee Experiment, which the U.S. Public Health System conducted from 1932 to 1972. Black men from the rural south were told the physicians were studying the natural progression of syphilis. The black men participated in the study because they were told they would receive free government health care. The study also was backed by the Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college and university.
Instead, physicians studying the disease left the disease untreated until men either went blind or died.
“Forget Me Not” is being presented in cities as part of a strategy to create interest in Alzheimer’s disease in the black community. It is being shown mostly in black churches throughout the United States to make African Americas aware of the rapid rise Alzheimer’s disease in the black community.
The disease is the fourth leading cause of death among American Americans.
The play opened in Winston-Salem, N.C., at Wake Forest Baptist Church. Its second stop was Washington D.C. The performance was supported by Howard University and Georgetown University.
A performance is scheduled in Philadelphia with the University of Pennsylvania as a supporter. The play usually is scheduled near a research university.
Other locations where performances are scheduled for 2015 are Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Indianapolis, Monroe said.
The two-hour play is followed by a panel discussion about Alzheimer’s, and the audience is encouraged to ask questions.
Playwright Garrett Davis wrote “Forget Me Not” based on his family experience. Davis’ grandmother, Goodness, suffered from Alzheimer’s and one day she no longer recognized him, Monroe said. In 2012, Davis was the Alzheimer’s Association Advocate of the Year Ambassador.