For the last two years, Michelle Watts has served on the UW-Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center (ADRC) Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute (WAI) Milwaukee Community Advisory Board (CAB) for the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention study (WRAP), a longitudinal research study of adult children whose parent (s) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. People who have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease have a higher risk of developing the disease and are important research volunteers. Michelle’s mom has Alzheimer’s, and with that family history, she knows that she can provide valuable input into research initiatives conducted by the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute.
Michelle has been personally involved in research studies over the years. Now, through her role on the Community Advisory Board, she hopes to educate the African American community about the importance of research and break down some of the barriers attached to participating in clinical trials. “Many people in the community don’t understand what research is,” said Michelle. “They are skeptical about what is going to happen with their personal information, and sometimes they are concerned that you are going to sell it.” The board has been working hard to change these misleading perceptions and to address other barriers to participation including transportation, work and schedule conflicts, and trust issues. “Research can be a disconnect because community members are asked to put their trust with people they don’t know. It’s just simply out of their comfort zone,” she said.
Michelle knows that she is playing an important role in helping to educate her community about the importance of participating in research, instill trust in the people and break down barriers through community outreach and education efforts conducted by WRAP’s Community Advisory Board. The Community Advisory Board is a true collaboration of individuals with very diverse backgrounds including general community members, clergy, physicians, lawyers, and educators. Michelle is a licensed clinical social worker who has a background working with individuals in the correctional system, community health and outreach.
According to Michelle, “Knowledge is power. Our outreach efforts need to be very visible in the African American community. We need to be seen at health fairs, at churches, and on the radio. People in our community clearly don’t always understand Alzheimer’s disease, but they will most likely follow up on information they receive from someone they trust.”
Last year, Michelle took her personal outreach efforts one step further by organizing a family team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. It was a positive experience and now her 16 year old nephew can’t wait to participate in this year’s event. Michelle indicated, “We had a great time. It’s important for the kids to learn early about this disease and to see what it means to be a volunteer. It’s also important that more people of color learn about this event and become involved.”