Closing Health Disparities in the Black Community

Guidelines to prevent stroke, diabetes and hypertension

health disparities in the African American elder community
There are real health discrepancies in the African American community especially when it comes to stroke, diabetes and hypertension. Here are tips all of us can use. Getty Images

When Clare a home health aide with Partners in Care, took on a new role with her 77 year-old African-American client Margaret, she knew supporting her after a recent stroke would present some very real challenges. After the stroke, Margaret was bedridden and just beginning to get her confidence back so thinking positively was important as they started the road to recovery. According to the CDC, nearly 44% of African-American men and 48% of African-American women have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke.

These health disparities are real. Margaret and Clare are dealing with the specific aftermath of a stroke, but there are important things that all of us can do to stay ahead of chronic and debilitating illnesses such as stroke, diabetes and hypertension.

When Margaret was released from the hospital after several weeks of medical care and rehab, Clare was there to take the cab ride with her to make sure that she arrived home safely. Relationships are important, and even though Margaret does have family in the area, Clare has become one of her closest confidants. “I just want to keep her feeling confident, it’s so important especially right now,” she explains.

Since Margaret is bedridden it’s been hard for her to feel like she’s making post-stroke progress, so Clare has developed a few exercises and techniques to help her see how she’s doing. “She can’t feed herself right now,” Margaret’s stroke has weakened the muscles in her hands, “so I encourage her to keep her hand on the straw, little things like that, so she feels like she has some control.” Clare also does things like roll up a sock so Margaret can practice clenching and releasing as she works to retrain her hand muscles.

The tips below have helped give Clare and Margaret actionable ways to measure progress as Margaret continues to heal and adapt at home, keeping her motivated and steady on the path to recovery. Here are a few reminders for you to keep in mind:

Get active: just 30-40 minutes of physical activity five days a week can help reduce your risk for stroke and heart disease.

It doesn’t have to be a huge change to your routine either, you could do things like parking farther away from the grocery store and walking a little longer.

Manage your stress: sometimes stress is unavoidable, but doing things like walking or other physical activity, yoga or meditation can help reduce your risk for hypertension.

Limit or stop smoking and drinking: smoking enhances blood pressure and can cause strokes – try to cut back or stop smoking. Limiting your alcohol consumption is important as alcohol can adversely affect some medications. Each person is different, but moderation is crucial.

Keep a medical journal: take the time to write down your medications, note how you feel each day, especially on days when you feel a little groggy, tired, sad or confused. This way you have a record of your health so every doctor can understand your full medical history.

Manage your diet: this one can be the most challenging especially when your cultural eating habits are contrary to healthy eating.

It’s important to manage your cholesterol levels by reducing your daily fat intake gradually over time. Start small and build your goals from there. Start by trying to be mindful of salt and sodium intake, which can have adverse effects on hypertension and diabetes, respectively.

Learn how to read food labels: it’s so important to know what you’re putting in your body and it’ll help you with the previous tip by helping you stay mindful of foods with too much salt or sugar. Eating healthy is a choice and it’s never too late to start making better choices.

These are just a few tips to keep in mind to be proactive and hopefully prevent unexpected or avoidable illness. One essential tip that we can learn from Clare is remaining confident. “It’s all about seeing the good in things,” Clare says. With a positive outlook being proactive and recovery can be a little easier to handle. 

Jennifer Leeflang, Senior Vice President, Partners in Care

Jennifer Leeflang, RN, heads Partners in Care, a licensed home care agency which is a part of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY), the nation's largest not for profit home and community care organization.

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