Saturday, 22 February 2020

Black Men's Health Group Seeks to Understand Alzheimer's and Caregiving


By Neil Armstrong

Photo credit: Simon Samuel    Left to right: Danielle Farrell, public education coordinator, Alzheimer's Society of Peel; Primrose Mharapara, nurse practitioner, University Health Network; and Ken Noel, president, The Walnut Foundation


Being physically active, socially connected and mentally engaged are important for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This was the key message at a symposium about Alzheimer’s, dementia and caregiving held in the auditorium of the Bramalea Baptist Church in Brampton, Ontario to recognize Black History Month.

Organized by The Walnut Foundation, a men’s health interest group and prostate cancer support group comprised mainly of Caribbean men, the event attracted 125 people featuring presentations by Danielle Farrell, public education coordinator of the Alzheimer’s Society of Peel and Primrose Mharapara, nurse practitioner of the University Health Network.

There was also a discussion about the caregiving experience by Grace Hope, Lana Salmon and Charmaine McKintosh who offered glimpses into their lived reality of caring for their loved ones.

Ken Noel, president of The Walnut Foundation, said the idea for the event’s focus came out of the input from previous symposiums where people wanted to know more about diseases that affect the Black community that are not talked about within the Black community.

Mharapara, whose presentation was entitled “Dementia and Alzheimer’s – The long goodbye,” said people are living longer as technology has contributed a lot to improved health outcome.

She shared the experience of advising her Zimbabwean father to control his blood pressure and blood sugar level, of getting rid of salt from his diet, and the need to eat healthy, exercise and to sleep well. The recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate or high- energy exercise per day amounting to 150 minutes over five days.

Speaking of “Taking charge of your brain health” and “Caregiving,” Farrell said there is no place in the world where dementia does not exist but the lowest rate is in the Mediterranean and what reports have shown is that the diet of their lifestyle accounts for this occurrence.

She underscored the significance of eating healthy – fish, poultry, vegetables and fruits – drinking enough water to keep hydrated and getting adequate sleep because lack of sleep will “do horrible things to your brain.”

Farrell also recommended turning off the cellphone or television thirty minutes before going to bed because not doing so will negatively impact sleep.

The Walnut Foundation was established in 2007 to work with the Black community in identifying the needs of Black men in the areas of health and related issues, and to provide a forum for discussion in a safe and comfortable environment.

“Trying to get Black men to talk about prostate health was a challenge so we decided to extend it to health, in general, and that attracted a lot more people into the organization,” says Noel about the organization, which was founded initially as a prostate cancer support group.

At their monthly meetings men are invited to attend and to speak about their experience and the healthcare system.

“What are they facing? Are they facing racism? Speak about it, then what can we do about it as The Walnut Foundation? Who can we advocate to, to improve their experiences with going to the doctors?”

The organization collaborates with the Black Health Alliance, Prostate Cancer Canada, Princess Margaret Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Sunnybrook Hospital in an effort to “build relationships with those healthcare systems so that we can bring information to the men that will help them as well,” says Noel.

It also seeks to influence public policy around the needs of the Black community regarding specific diseases and to improve the quality of life, functional performance and psychological adjustment of individuals and families who have concerns about men’s health issues.

Acknowledging that the membership needs to outreach to young men to get them involved, Noel noted that in May of this year there will be a father-son day and the board of directors is planning to reserve a position for a youth in its management structure.

On June 6, it will hold its annual fundraising walkathon for its annual conference on men’s health, which happens in October.

In the meantime, the organization accepts invitations from community and other groups to present on subjects such as prostate cancer awareness and men taking responsibility for their health.

The symposium also recognized the contributions of its founder, Dr. Winston Isaac, who died on February 15, 2019.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, February 20-26, 2020.]

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