Alumna Encourages Brain Health and Helps People with Dementia

Posted September 21, 2023, 1:44PM

Latorius Adams, ‘10, is a social/clinical research specialist in the Department of Neurology in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Originally from Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, Adams studied health education at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and completed her bachelor’s degree even though she gave birth to her daughter during her senior year. “She was three weeks old when I walked across the graduation stage,” Adams recalled.

Adams also earned a master’s degree in health sciences at Western Carolina University in 2018.

Where did you work after graduation?

Harnett County Department of Public Health for ten years. My last year at NCCU, we were required to do an internship. After graduating, they hired me full time. I worked in the mobile mammography unit, helping low-income and uninsured women to get breast exams. Then the Division on Aging, where I assisted older adults who were homebound. It was to keep them at home vs going to a nursing home. I did Medicare counseling, arranged Meals on Wheels, worked with caregivers who helped those with dementia, arranged supplies and coordinated aides to sit with people.

What are your main responsibilities at UNC-Chapel Hill?

I am program coordinator for the NC Registry for Brain Health. It is an email registry where individuals can sign up and receive news and get tools to maintain a healthy brain. I do a lot of outreach and community events. I do brain health talks at a lot of rural African American churches in Wake County and Harnett County.

Recently, I became social worker for the UNC Huntington Disease program. Huntington disease is a type of dementia. That’s 80% of my job; educating patients and families, connecting them with resources. Some might need home health care, physical therapy and assistance with the disability process.

Where do your clients come from?

They could live in rural areas of North Carolina. We have individuals who are incarcerated. We help train law enforcement on how to approach these individuals. Huntington disease can come across as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, African Americans are two to three times as likely to develop dementia as whites. Why?

There are several studies going on about that data. There is a lack of access to medical care. In a lot of counties in North Carolina, transportation is a major issue. Or they don’t have money for gas. There is also a lot of mistrust in the African American community with doctors and when it comes to clinical trials.

Why the mistrust?

The medical establishment has a long history of mistreating Black Americans – from gruesome experiments on enslaved people to the forced sterilization of Black women and the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study that withheld treatment from hundreds of Black men for decades to let doctors track the course of the disease. Beliefs about physician mistrust among African American patients are reinforced through differential treatment in comparison to whites. I have had individuals says to me ‘I’m not going to be a guinea pig.’

Is it possible to encourage a greater number of African Americans to participate in clinical trials?

We look up the history of clinical research in our institutions so when we are out in the community and people bring it up, we can talk them through it and tell them what’s different (now).

Why is it important for African Americans to participate in clinical trials?

It is all for the greater good, to see what (researchers) can do to stop or slow dementia. People are living longer and the numbers of dementia are increasing. There are so many forms of dementia – Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s – and they all have different treatment.

Is dementia a normal part of aging?

No. There is normal aging and there is cognitive impairment. You might forget your kids’ birthdays but if you forgot you had kids, that is more of an issue.

Besides registering for the NC Registry for Brain Health, what should people do to keep their brains healthy?

We encourage people to be active, follow the Mediterranean diet, stay engaged, attend social events and follow up with your doctors.

How did your time at North Carolina Central University make possible what you now do with your life?

My education there majoring in public health helped me grow compassion for the people. You are informing people about important health topics. I just fell in love with that and helping communities and older adults. NCCU provided the tools and the capacity to go out in the world and make a difference.

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