SILVER SPRING – African Americans in Montgomery County have an infant mortality rate that is 237% higher than other ethnic groups living here, according to County Executive Marc Elrich.

Their mortality rate for heart ailments is 116% higher, and their rate for breast cancer mortality is 131%  higher, Elrich said during an Oct. 10 African American Health Program at the Silver Spring Civic Building.

Their poverty rate is 200% higher, and the rate for African American children living in poverty is 550% higher, he said, calling these statistics “alarming.”

“We haven’t done a good job,” Elrich said, adding that is the reason his administration now looks at all its initiatives and budgeting through “a racial equity lens.”

“Just because you are treating people equally doesn’t mean you are treating them equitably,” he told an audience of about 100 African American senior citizens.

He cited a zoning example. Rezoning an area so it can include “shiny, new and big” houses may seem like a good idea, but not if it results in higher rents that force current residents to move out of the area “with no great choices,” Elrich noted.

Part of the focus of the program was letting attendees know what services are available to them. Many representatives from organizations, both governmental and nonprofit, staffed tables piled high with information.

According to keynote speaker Dr. Marie Bernard, deputy director of the National Institute of Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), by 2040, more residents will be older than 60 years old than younger than five years old.

“That’s just a generation away,” she said.

Therefore, more emphasis must be placed on aging, helping people stay healthy as long as possible, she said.

“The aging process can be changed.”

With better diets and increased exercise, people could experience less problems as they age, Bernard said. While they still may incur illnesses and medical conditions, they will be able to cope better, she said.

She also talked about medical efforts at the NIH to fight aging, in particular, trying to combat zombie cells. Bernard explained that as animals age, some cells appear to go to sleep, “but actually are secreting dangerous stuff.”

Researchers are studying these cells and seeing what happens when they are removed, she said.

Bernard spoke about the importance of controlling blood pressure, because older adults with low blood pressure are more likely to fall and hurt themselves.

She also stressed exercise. That will lengthen the time people are able to continue their regular lifestyle, despite living with a disability, she said.

Walking, resistance training, balance exercises and stretching are very important, she said.

“Being totally sedentary is not good for you,” Bernard stressed.

Bernard also talked about dementia and Alzheimer’s, which she called “a disease of aging.”

“African Americans have the highest prevalence,” she said.

She noted that there are 200 trials going on now at the NIH, of which 90 cover nutrition, exercise and brain games. Another 69 of the trails concern caregiving, and only 44 involved drugs.

Odile Brunetto, acting chief of the Aging and Disability Services at the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said her department is focusing on the needs of current and future seniors to make sure the resources they need are available.

“There is a huge growth in the population” of those who are older than 60, she said.

In about two decades, Brunetto predicted, “over one-quarter of the residents of our country are going to be over 60.”

There is a need to provide services both for the aging population as well as their caregivers, she said.

But Dr. Raymond Crowel, director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said his department can only do so much.

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