WLAA Alzheimer’s Series: UM researcher dedicated to helping African-American dementia caregivers


This is part of an ongoing WLAA series on The Alzheimer’s Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. The Michigan Great Lakes Chapter, based in Ann Arbor, serves 23 counties throughout the state. For more information, log onto www.alz.org/mglc/index.asp


Like so many people associated with Alzheimer’s, it’s personal for Dr. Sheria Robinson-Lane, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Michigan studying African-American caregivers.

“My maternal grandmother is currently developing some dementia but is undiagnosed,” Dr. Robinson-Lane said. “She’s 98 and only recently entered a facility after being at home with many family caregivers.”

With her grandmother in mind, heart and soul, Dr. Robinson-Lane has committed herself to dementia research.

“I think your personal experiences will always influence the work that you do,” she said. “I was raised by her for a great deal of my childhood and we were very close.”

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects 5.5 million Americans and is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. African-Americans are often at a greater risk of developing the disease, being two times more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s than whites and less likely to have a diagnosis of their condition.

The Alzheimer’s Association is celebrating Black History Month by appreciating the incredible contributions African-Americans have had on Alzheimer’s research throughout history. The organization praised the work and commitment of Dr. Robinson-Lane, who has seen firsthand the devastation the disease creates in her research with African-American caregivers and in her personal life.

“The adults I spend time with are diagnosed pretty late and often don’t have a diagnosis, so right now my work looks at whether or not people are being diagnosed and if they are staying at home,” Dr. Robinson-Lane said.

Her current work involves helping African-American caregivers maintain their mental and physical health and gain social support. She evaluates the factors that influence a person’s ability to provide care by studying their resources, the type of support that they have available, overall health, personality and coping characteristics. Her ultimate aim is to develop culturally-tailored support programs for minority caregivers.

“Too often, caregivers are so incredibly focused on their loved one because they’ve spent a lot of time with them,” Dr. Robinson-Lane said. “But it’s an incredibly stressful period, and during that space, you kind of lose yourself.”

Her advice to these caregivers would be to leave some time to themselves, keep up with their own doctor’s appointments, and reach out to the support system they already have.

Dr. Robinson-Lane, a gerontologist with expertise in palliative care, long-term care, and nursing administration, has focused her career on the care and support of older adults with cognitive and/or functional disabilities. She is interested in the ways that older adults adapt to changes in health, and particularly how adaptive coping strategies effect health outcomes.

Prior to coming to coming to the University of Michigan School of Nursing, Dr. Robinson-Lane completed an NIH-funded advanced research rehabilitation training program in community living and participation with the University of Michigan Medical School.

Dr. Robinson-Lane is one of many African-American researchers who have made great strides in the field of dementia research. To learn more about these researchers throughout history and find resources for African-American caregivers and dementia patients, visit alz.org/africanamerican.

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