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Black Rep captures the painful, funny experience of African-American families battling Alzheimer’s

Ron Himes, Beverly Foster and Dr. John Morris discussed how Alzheimer's disease impacts African-American patients and families.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Ron Himes, Beverly Foster and Dr. John Morris discussed how Alzheimer's disease impacts African-American patients and families.

African-Americans over the age of 70 are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as white people. While there are no answers, said Dr. John Morris, director of the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University, there are some factors that might be contributing to this gap.

Lifestyle, culture and genetics play a role and Morris said that the stress of discrimination and poor education may also contribute to the difference. Morris said this disparity in Alzheimer’s diagnoses applies to Hispanic patients as well.

Morris runs the Memory and Aging Project at Washington University, which researches healthy brains before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s set in. You can learn more about that project here.

Washington University is partnering with The Black Rep in a recent production that tackles how African-American families are impacted by Alzheimer’s. It is called “DOT,” a play by Colman Domingo, that runs through Sept. 26 at the Edison Theatre.

Ron Himes, the founder and producing director of the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, said that the play captures an African-American family dealing with their mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, from a caregiving older sister to younger siblings who are in a state of denial.

“The play is funny at moments, but also touching — they’re crying and laughing through it,” Himes said. “There are things about Alzheimer’s in the family that are funny, but if you talk about it outside the family, it is not as funny.”


Beverly Foster, a participant in the Memory and Aging Project whose mother and two uncles were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, said that living with family members who have the illness indeed had its moments where you just had to laugh.

“My mom was married to my stepdad for over 40 years. They shared the same bedroom, of course, and she was telling my siblings: ‘God is going to get you for making me sleep with this man,’” Foster said. “We had to move her into a bedroom on her own.”


At every performance of “DOT,” representatives from the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center attend to answer questions from the audience. Morris hopes that more African-Americans will participate in research on Alzheimer’s so some of the questions on why it impacts African-Americans much more frequently can be studied.

“So many African-Americans accept some deterioration in memory and thinking as part of normal aging, it is not,” Morris said. “In truly healthy aging, you don’t have memory problems. People need to get evaluated and if those problems are caused by Alzheimer’s, they need to get treatment.”

Listen to the full discussion here:

Related Events

What: The Black Rep Presents "DOT" by Colman Domingo
When: Sept. 4 - 26, 2017; Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: Edison Theatre at Washington University, 6465 Forsyth Blvd, St. Louis
More information.

What: Walk to End Alzheimer’s
When: Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017
Where: Scottrade Center, 1401 Clark Ave., St. Louis
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.