MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Researchers call it "The Silent Epidemic.”
Alzheimer's is a rising public health crisis among African Americans.
More African Americans are developing the disease, despite fewer of them receiving an actual diagnosis.
As a teenager, Judy Davis says she had a typical mother-daughter relationship with her mom Ruth Jane.
Judy is an only child, just like her mom. Both always felt a strong sense of responsibility to keep their Memphis family strong.
So the role of caretaker fell on their shoulders as Judy's grandparents got older.
When they passed seven years ago, she says she felt like she got a piece of her life back.
"I’m going to travel (and) do some of the things I’ve been wanting to do because my life had been on hold for about five or six years,” Judy said.
But Judy’s days of taking care of others weren’t over. Two years ago, doctors diagnosed her mom Ruth Jane with dementia.
Life for the two is now a blur, a mixture of highs and lows.
“I have been cut,” Judy said. “I’ve been beaten with a space heater.”
Judy says her mother’s diagnosis became their secret, and her mother didn’t want anyone to know.
“I’m losing my mom every day,” Judy said. “I’ve lost my job. I’m sitting in the middle of the floor in tears.”
Ruth Jane is part of a staggering statistic that now shows African Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than Caucasians and less likely to receive a diagnosis.
"There are about 30,000 diagnosed cases of Alzheimer's in Shelby County alone,” said J.J. Doughtie, Assistant Executive Director of Alzheimer’s and Dementia Services of Memphis.
Research by the Alzheimer’s Association shows the number of African Americans over the age of 65 is growing rapidly – age is a key risk factor for the disease.
African Americans are also 'seriously underrepresented' in current clinical trials of potential treatment, according to research. Alzheimer's and Dementia Services of Memphis helps hundreds of people battling the disease.
Ruth Jane is one of them.
"I have that support I didn’t have at first,” Judy said.
This mother-daughter duo is now embracing a different type of relationship, one that changes daily.
“I’m Salina,” Judy said. “Salina was my great-grandmother. I’m Marie and I’m also Nancy.”
It’s a relationship that still after all these years has its highs and lows.
"Ruth Jane and Judy are two only’s that’s going to make it,” Judy said.
Anyone needing resources or support can reach out to the Alzheimer's and Dementia Services of Memphis. They have daily activities and programs.
Visit their website for more information.