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Hoosier couple dedicated to promoting importance of research in underrepresented communities

One of the priorities of the Indiana Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (IADRC) at Indiana University School of Medicine is to connect with diverse communities who are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Husband and wife duo, Ralph and Mollie Richards, have been leaders in this crucial mission. The Richardses are highly active members of theIADRC’s Community Advisory Board and the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Indiana Chapter Advisory Board. Through that service, they have provided underrepresented communities—particularly African American and Black communities in the Indianapolis metro area—with invaluable education programs about the importance of brain health, how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and the importance of participation in research. The Richardses began their journey more than 20 years ago when they became community educators with the Alzheimer’s Association Chapter in Rochester, New York. When they arrived in Indiana six years ago, they also brought their spirit of community activism and co-founded the IADRC’s Community Advisory Board with the former Outreach, Recruitment and Engagement Core leader, Mary Guerriero Austrom, PhD.

Mollie, who is a retired occupational therapist with extensive experience in rehabilitation management and program development, has led workshops and seminars on topics like Alzheimer’s disease for decades. She has been an influential collaborator with several IU School of Medicine subject-matter experts, effectively communicating to researchers the value of under-represented Hoosier involvement in medical research. Meanwhile, Ralph has been an instrumental leader with the center and participates in events like the IADRC’s annual Memory University, a free and accessible program held each week in June. He also received the Golden Hoosier Award which honors senior Hoosiers for years of continued service to their communities.

“It’s involvement like the Richardses’ that has helped the Center thrive for so many years,” said
Andrew Saykin, PsyD, director of the IADRC.

Through these years of service, the pair has advocated for better representation in Alzheimer’s disease research, particularly among the Black community where the devastating disease is much more prevalent. Not only are Black people more at-risk for the disease but— as Alzheimer’s continues to spread for the next 30 years— the number of African Americans expected to develop the disease will more than double to 6.9 million people. With these alarming statistics, the Richardses have spent years educating Black Hoosiers about healthy aging and Alzheimer’s disease, particularly among Indianapolis communities. In their work with the IADRC’s Community Advisory Board, the Richardses create a bridge between science and the community it impacts by working to increase participation among people of color in screening and assessments through education, outreach and research study participation.

“The IADRC is proud of how the Richardses promote our mission of health equity for early detection, treatment in Alzheimer’s disease and diversity in research participation,” said
Sophia Wang, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and current leader of the Outreach, Recruitment and Engagement Core at the IADRC.

Recently the Richardses received the
2021 Indiana Business Journal Health Care Heroes Award for their incredible efforts as volunteers who have educated underserved minority communities for decades about the importance of early detection and the need for research to discover a cure for this tragic disease. Remarkable work and recognition like this are powerful reminders of the influence that the Hoosier community can have on Alzheimer’s disease research. The decades of work and involvement of the Richardses shows how science and innovation isn’t something that belongs in the hands of the few but in the lives of the many.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Sonder Collins

Communications Coordinator

Having joined IU School of Medicine in 2016, Sonder uses a poetry and theatre background to help bridge the academic world with the creative. A graduate of University of Evansville, he works with faculty and academic staff to formulate unique, marketing ideas that engage the public with innovative research at IU School of Medicine. From writing stories on groundbreaking equipment to orchestrating digital marketing strategies, Sonder collaborates with experts across the school to help departments thrive in their marketing and communication ambitions.