Smith, the first African American woman to appear on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine in 1976, is reaching out to minorities who are battling Alzheimer’s disease.
The model, born Barbara Smith, revealed her struggle with the disease in a CBS interview last July. Since then, she has teamed up with her husband and caregiver, Dan Gasby, along with the organization Brain Health Registry to encourage more minorities to enroll in clinical trials for cognitive diseases.
African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities are under-represented in medical research. A study published in Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders found that more than 95 percent of subjects in a typical Alzheimer’s disease clinical trial are White.
Gasby noted that many African-Americans view medical practices as distrustful and equated their leeriness to the dissatisfaction of policing in America’s Black communities.
“This is a 21st century civil rights issue in terms of understanding that Alzheimer’s have to be dealt with, and that we have to find a way to work with pharmaceutical companies and research companies to get involved so that the data that they collect is going to help us,” Gasby told The Huffington Post.
Some issues hindering recruitment of minorities in Alzheimer’s clinical trials include primary care physicians’ lack of capacity and resources to assess cognition and refer patients to research; barriers to participation for underrepresented communities, such as lack of cultural sensitivity; the requirement for a study partner (someone who can report on cognitive changes) for most Alzheimer’s trials; and the use of invasive procedures, such as lumbar punctures or brain imaging with an injected tracer agent, according to a 2014 Health Affairs article.
“I suffer from Alzheimer’s myself – and know how critical clinical trials are to accelerating cures for brain disease,” Smith said in a statement. “It’s important that we hear from people of all communities in order to find the best treatments and cures, especially for specific populations.”
A cabaret show and fundraiser held May 11 and entitled “Voices Remembered” honored Smith, who is now a New York restaurateur. Noted Broadway stars and voice-over actors performed during the show to help spread awareness to Alzheimer’s disease. Funds raised by the show benefitted Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers.