History of mistrust complicates study of dementia in African-Americans

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tags: racism, dementia, Tuskegee Institute syphilis study



The question came as a shock to Dorothy Reeves: Would she be willing to donate her husband's brain for research?

She knew dementia would steadily take Levi Reeves' memories of their 57-year marriage, his remaining lucidity and, eventually, his life. But to let scientists take his brain after he died? That seemed too much to ask.

"I didn't want to deal with the idea of his death," said Reeves, 79. "I certainly didn't want to deal with brain donation."

As an African-American and a former schoolteacher, Reeves is keenly aware of the history of racism in health care, including callous and sometimes deadly experimentation.

Reeves said she never personally has had a bad experience with doctors or the medical system. But she's old enough to remember the infamous Tuskegee Institute syphilis study, during which hundreds of mostly illiterate black sharecroppers were assured they were being treated for "bad blood" even as doctors withheld effective treatment over decades.




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