Alzheimers disease in the Hmong Community


Linda Gerdner, author of Grandfather’s Story Cloth, which shines a light on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Hmong Community, made a couple of stops in St. Paul recently. The disease is a progressive brain disease which is growing in numbers among the Asian community. As many as 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. Alzheimer’s gets worse over time. Today it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.

Ms Gerdner first stop was at The Hmong Cultural Center on University Avenue in St. Paul. She was introduced by Executive Director Txongpao Lee to over 30 members of our local Hmong community. The group ranged in age from the very young to the very old. All interested to know more about the disease that is affecting so many of our elderly.

Outside, it was your typical Minnesota day, not really sure what the weather would bring, at times it seemed like the Monsoon season. That didn’t stop the group from enjoying listening to Gerdner as she read the book to the group. Nai Christopher Lo the Center’s Outreach and Youth Coordinator acted as an interrupter for the session.

The Story Cloth shows Grandfather‘s life in China the move to Laos the struggles during the war years, the move again to Thailand and finally forced immigration to the United States. These story cloths are passed on from generation to generation as a truly wonderful way of remembering the Hmong heritage and their ancestors.

Another stop for Gerdner was at HOPE Community Academy, on the East Side of St. Paul. About 80% of the students are Hmong. HOPE is a public K-8 charter school, whose primary focus is on the Hmong language and culture.

Students gathered in the school’s gymnasium to listen to Gerdner speak. Three sessions were needed, in total about 300 students came to listen to the author. Maychy Vu, Director of the school introduced the author. Ms Gerdner was delighted to find out that many of the students had already read the book; she then opened it up for questions. It’s a story of an increasingly common situation among families; children facing the confusing changes in their grandparents due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. You could see in the faces of the students that they wanted to know more; to somehow understand more about the disease that is affecting many Hmong families.

As a Ph D RN Gerdner is dedicated to helping persons with health related issues. She has focused particularly on those with Alzheimer’s disease and the family members who are caring for them. Although Grandfather’s Story Cloth is her first children’s book she has been published extensively in professional journals and received international and national awards for these contributions.

Gerdner has traveled to northern Laos where she visited three Hmong villages in the rural province of Xieng Khouang. The bonds and friendships established with members of the Hmong American community have enriched her life and expanded her world.

Since most of her writing has been in professional journals it may be hard for most to understand. She wants to work with the Hmong community and make them aware of these health concerns.

To further help the local community Maychy Vu of the HOPE Academy is planning to use Health Education as part of the Parents Program when school starts again in the fall, touching more on Alzheimer’s disease.

Editor’s Note: Our plan is to use the Asian America Press as a forum to reach out to the Hmong community in words we can all understand easier. Watch in the near future as we look closer into health care within the Asian community.