Barbara "B." Smith isn't sashaying down the runway, but she is putting herself, or rather her Alzheimer's diagnosis, in the spotlight.
Smith is one of the country's first high-profile black models. She once graced the covers of Essence and Mademoiselle. Now she's gracing the cover of her new book co-authored with husband Dan Gasby and Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shnayerson.
"I’m still myself. I just can’t remember things as well as I once did," she writes in "Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in our Fight Against Alzheimer's." Smith was diagnosed with the disease in 2013 at age 64. Her book is part memoir, part call to action.
"The reason we are launching this during Martin Luther King weekend is that Alzheimer's is a 21st-century civil rights issue," Gasby says to USA Today. "Two out of three people with Alzheimer's disease are women. Blacks are two to three times more likely to have Alzheimer's. …And it drives people into poverty, in many cases taking away the gains that a sizable and growing portion of people in the African-American community have made.”
Stephanie Monroe, director of the African Americans Network against Alzheimer's, says although blacks represent only 13 percent of the population, they bear 30 percent of the cost of the disease.
It's unknown why blacks, and Hispanics, are more likely to develop Alzheimer's. Genetic differences may be at play. There may also be a connection to higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular condition that often are seen at a higher rate in blacks.