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The Healing Power of Counseling: Addressing How Racial Inequities Impact Dementia

By Northwestern University’s Online Masters in Counseling program

After her husband died in 1986, Cornelia Moss lived alone in her native Arkansas for 13 years before moving to Wisconsin to live with her daughter. 

As the wife of a cotton farmer who raised 16 children in a segregated small town in the South, Moss, who was Black, had lived a hard life filled as much with stress as joy.

“You know, now when I drive by and see people sitting on the porch just relaxing, I think, that was not something my parents could do,” said Moss’ daughter, Jewelline Wiggins, 70. “They never had lax time. There was always something to do just to maintain.”

Moss’ mind steadily broke down during her time in Wisconsin. Her family saw small, gradual changes in her state of mind. 

“What we started noticing was that she would get very irritated when you would point out that she had misspoken or misplaced something, or had forgotten something,” Wiggins said. “It frightened her and it bothered her a lot.”

Moss is part of a pattern identified in a growing body of academic research External link  about the prevalence of dementia in Black Americans. Those studies point to racial inequities in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, dispelling previous beliefs that genetic factors were the root cause. They also discuss growing evidence that early-life stress and neighborhood conditions contribute to dementia risk later in life.

Black people are about twice as likely as White people to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but less likely to be diagnosed with the condition. One reason for this is the history of abuses against Black people External link  in medical research which has resulted in a well-documented reluctance for them to take part in additional research or seek medical help. Some other contributing factors may include cultural beliefs on aging, inequalities in health care, as well as varying life course influences, like exposure to a stressful environment.

Black men and women are shown to be most at risk, experiencing over 60 percent more incidents of major stressors
than non-Hispanic whites over their lifetimes. Continue reading

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