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Local organizations hold free seminars to support Black Pittsburghers with dementia

Books about working with people who have dementia are displayed on a coffee table.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Books about working with people who have dementia are displayed on a coffee table.

Black Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer's Disease or other dementias as older whites, according to the National Institute on Aging. The Presbyterian Senior Care Network is hoping to raise awareness about the high prevalence of dementia among Pittsburgh’s Black community.

In collaboration with Flourishing Communities Inc., a non-profit organization whose mission is to eliminate food insecurity and develop opportunities for personal, family and community well-being, free dementia education seminars will be held this week.

“Our goal is to support and educate as many family caregivers and people with dementia as possible,” Amy Kowinsky, executive director of the Presbyterian Senior Care Network’s Dementia 360 program, said. “We need culturally sensitive programs like this to address the needs of everyone in our community.”

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Kowinsky said that non-white races account for about 10% of the network’s care, which is not covered by insurance. She said the network is currently in the process of starting a covered pilot program with a local provider.

“We hope no one will ever have to pay,” Kowinsky said. “Yes, dementia care and education can be very difficult and complex, but it is necessary like every other aspect of health care.”

One of the seminars’ organizers, John Welch, said dementia is only one of a “plethora” of issues in the Black community. Welch is CEO of Flourishing Communities and pastor of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church.

“It does not matter how well-educated or rich [African Americans] are, we’re still at the lowest survival rate of all diseases,” Welch said. “People have lived their entire lives distrusting their health care, so there is just a great lack of understanding.”

Welch also said privacy is another big reason why some Black community members might not be as educated on topics like dementia.

“This is the situation with healthcare; we need providers with lived experience,” Welch said.

Individuals who attend the seminars will also be paired with one of six community caregivers to receive phone support, guidance and problem-solving tips.

“Dementia can be a very lonely disease — not only for the person experiencing it but the caregiver as well,” Kowinsky said. “While dementia doesn’t have a cure, there are things to do to help. It needs to be less stigmatized.”

Kowinsky said another key part to the seminars is mental and physical health tips for caregivers. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield’s report on the impact of caregiving, caregivers are at a higher risk for developing anxiety, major depression, obesity and hypertension.

“No matter what, [caregivers] must find a way to get a break before it’s too late,” Kowinsky said. “Being strong for your loved one starts with yourself.”

The seminars will be held this Wednesday through Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Bidwell Presbyterian Church on the North Side. Wednesday features a session about the basics of caregiving; Thursday, about behaviors to expect and promote; and Friday about how to make homes safer and more dementia-friendly.

To RSVP, contact Jonathan Szish, director of corporate communications at Presbyterian SeniorCare Network, at 412-826-6083 or

Erin Yudt is an intern newsroom production assistant and senior at Point Park University majoring in journalism and minoring in psychology. She’s originally from Sharpsville, about an hour north of the ‘Burgh. Erin is the current editor-in-chief of Point Park’s student-run newspaper The Globe, an apprentice for the Point Park News Service and news director for the student-run radio station WPPJ. She has interned for PublicSource, Trib Total Media and The Sharon Herald.