Merlene Davis: Play about Alzheimer's seeks to make us more aware, aid research

Herald-Leader columnistJuly 21, 2014 

Dr. Gregory Jicha

  • IF YOU GO

    Forget Me Not

    A play by Garrett Davis, will be performed in Lexington to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease. Free, but registration is required.

    When: 3-6 p.m. Aug. 16.

    Where: Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third St.

    Information and registration: Call (859) 323-5550.

Garrett Davis wrote the play Forget Me Not as a tribute to his grandmother who died of Alzheimer's disease when he was in college, and to all the family members who cared for her.

It is an urban theater play, the genre in which Tyler Perry became famous, that shows the funny, sad and frustrating emotions that caregivers and family members experience when the patriarch becomes lost in that illness.

The play is on tour, stopping in Lexington at the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center on Aug. 16 for a free performance, sponsored by the University of Kentucky, Sanders Brown Center on Aging.

The play serves not only as an entertaining way to make more people aware of the disease, but also as a way to educate people about the need to have more participants in clinical studies, said Dr. Gregory Jicha, a specialist in Alzheimer's at Sanders Brown.

As Davis became more aware of Alzheimer's, he reached out to doctors and researchers to learn more and then to tell what he had learned to audiences everywhere, Jicha said.

"Not only is this guy great," Jicha said, "but he is also so darn entertaining. He has an important message to share with everyone."

Jicha and staff members learned about the play while at a conference in San Diego. So when the need arose to get a more diverse group of volunteers for clinical research, the staff thought the play would be a great outreach and educational tool.

Both Davis and Jicha will talk prior to the play. After, there will be snacks and an opportunity to interact and learn more about Alzheimer's.

For the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer's study, or A4, Sanders-Brown is recruiting 1,000 participants ages 65-85 who do not have symptoms of Alzheimer's. The study hopes to prevent memory loss years before signs appear.

Sanders-Brown is the only study site in Kentucky for A4. Eventually, there will be 59 other sites throughout the United States, Canada and Australia for the 39-month trial, involving 10,000 people.

However, the study requires that one-fifth of the volunteers be minorities. Jicha said if a true sampling of people is studied, then the chances of skewed results are lessened.

"We are all in this together. We have got to be working across the board. This is a battle that no one person can win," he said.

That is why Davis started the Forget Me Not Project in 2010 after he discovered how underfunded Alzheimer's research is and how often the disease strikes in the black community. He has become an advocate for greater awareness of the affects of Alzheimer's in communities and is a founding member of the African American Network Against Alzheimer's disease.

First identified more than a century ago, Alzheimer's research into symptoms, causes, risk factors and treatment has gained momentum only in the last three decades.

According to African American Network Against Alzheimer's disease, black people are usually diagnosed with the disease at a later stage, limiting the effectiveness of early intervention treatments. Blacks are about two times more likely and Hispanics are about one and a half times more likely than their white counterparts to have Alzheimer's and other dementia. Of the estimated 5.4 million people living with the disease, two-thirds are women.

The disease is incurable, irreversible and progressive, slowly destroying memory and thinking skills to the point the patient is unable to carry out the simplest tasks. It is the most common cause of dementia in older adults, with the greatest risk factors being advanced age, race and family history.

And without participants in one of several studies underway, Alzheimer's will remain that way.

"If their life has been affected, if they have watched their loved ones slowly become lost, losing their minds through Alzheimer's, then this is such a great opportunity to help," Jicha said.

"If people recognize these issues and how close we are to making tremendous strides in curing Alzheimer's, they should join the fight and make a difference."

A good way to start down that road is to enjoy a funny and touching play.

Although the event is free, advance registration is required. The Lyric seats about 600 and more than 450 spots are still available.

Registration forms have been distributed to many local churches and community centers, as well as to the Lyric. You may have as many tickets as you want.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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