Alzheimer's Disease and Its Impact on the Latino Community
"Salud" is a Latin Post feature series that focuses on health and wellness topics and examines Latino health trends.
Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's disease, which is the only Top 10 leading cause of death in the U.S. that presently cannot be prevented, cured or slowed. Just as unfortunate, the disease and other dementias disproportionately affect older African-Americans and Hispanics.
Alzheimer's disease, an irreversible, aggressive brain disease that slowly destroys memories and thinking skills -- and revokes the ability to carry out simple tasks -- is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. From 2000-2013, when deaths from other diseases decreased significantly, Alzheimer's deaths increased 71 percent. Today, Alzheimer's kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer's disease are women, and a third of seniors die with Alzheimer's or another dementia. The disease not only uniquely impact women and the elderly, but also the Latino community, evident by the fact that Latinos are 1.5 times more likely than non-Latino whites to develop Alzheimer's disease.
Although Alzheimer's is a growing crisis, it still isn't a priority disease in the U.S. or the Latino community. More attention and funds are allotted to research for cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, the fatal disease, which has no cure, could be disarmed if policymakers, community stakeholders and healthcare service providers were to put forth efforts, targeted research, increased community awareness and policy solutions.
In part, Alzheimer's hold on the Latino community is due to increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, which are risk factors for Alzheimer's, according to LatinosAgainstAlzheimer's, which is the nation's first-ever coalition of national organizations coming together to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease within the Latino community. Launched in late 2014, the coalition's members include The Hispanic Federation, The Latino Alzheimer's & Memory Disorders Alliance (LAMDA), The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), MANA - A National Latina Organization, National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) and National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA).
"It's time to raise the profile of Alzheimer's in the Latino community. Right now, Alzheimer's disease isn't thought of an urgent health issue within the community. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity... these are all really seen as urgent issues within the Latino community, but Alzheimer's, for the longest time, has fallen by the wayside," Jason Resendez, Director of LatinosAgainstAlzheimer's,part of USAgainstAlzheimer's, said to Latin Post. "We're coming together to coordinate a strategy to change that perception. And that starts with looking at the issue itself, and how Latinos perceive that issue. One of the biggest obstacles when it comes to raising awareness of the disease within the community is the stigma that Alzheimer's has within the Latino community. So, that's one of the main things that we're working on, trying to de-stigmatize Alzheimer's."
According to Resendez, the involvement of recognizable organizations like LULAC helps to de-stigmatize and demystify the disease. The separate organizations are able to connect the dots around Alzheimer's awareness and coordinate a "multi-touch-point" response to address the issue. Also, the organizations are able to collect stories and put spotlights on the stories of constituents to draw the community out of the shadows to discuss the issue.
"Alzheimer's uniquely impacts the Latino community in a couple different ways. For one, Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to get Alzheimer's than non-Latino whites. Also, one of the many reasons we're at higher risk is because we have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and those are risk factors for Alzheimer's disease," said Resendez. "The other issue is the fact that Latinos are aging faster than any other population in the U.S., and right now, advanced age is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Latinos are disproportionately represented in older age groups, so older Latinos are at greater risk of Alzheimer's disease."
By 2050, the Latino community is projected to have a lifespan of 87 years, increasing the Latino segment of the nation's elderly population from ﬁve percent today to 16 percent -- and making Latinos the largest ethnic group in that age bracket in the U.S. The chances of developing Alzheimer's disease doubles approximately every ﬁve years after age 65.
After age 85 the risk reaches nearly 50 percent, which is a big concern as Latino age rapidly and live longer. More and more individuals in the community will face the disease.
"The other big way that Alzheimer's impacts Latinos is through caregiving. Approximately 1-in-4 Latino households include a family caregiver. The National Alliance on Caregiving did a study in 2008 that found that of eight million Latino caregivers in the U.S.," said Resendez. "Approximately 23 percent cared for somebody with Alzheimer's or a related dementia or condition. Those caregivers face high levels of stress, and there's research that shows that the stress of caregiving, itself, can lead to being at high risk for getting Alzheimer's disease."
A majority of Latino caregivers are women, which hints at the disease's unforgiving impact on women. Latina daughters, in particular carry the burden of caring for an elder with Alzheimer's. Often, caregiving burden is partnered with a financial burden.
"There are economic impacts of the disease. A lot of folks see the familia within the Latino community as a really unique institution. And one of the aspects of that institution is that we're less likely to commit one of parents to a nursing home or an assisted living home, and that burden stays within the family -- though some don't consider it a burden," said Resendez. "Latinos will have less willingness to reach out for help in these situations. That takes a financial toll on the family because these caregivers are leaving the workforce and they're not compensated for the hours that they've committed to caregiving, and then the emotional stress that the caregiving places on a family, particularly daughters can crack the foundation of a family."
Alzheimer's disease is the most expensive disease for families and the nation. In 2015, Alzheimer's and other dementias will cost the nation $226 billion. By 2050, those costs will rise as high $1.1 trillion, according to the Alzheimer's Association. However, not only is it expensive, it's underdiagnosed. Only 45 percent of people with Alzheimer's disease or their caregiver report being told of their diagnosis, compared to people with the four most common types of cancer. More than 90 percent of cancer patients were told of their diagnosis.
When it comes to treatment and understanding, there are several barriers that prevent Latinos from accessing preventative care and diagnosis for Alzheimer's, including language barriers and cultural biases. It's commonplace for many Latinos to believe that Alzheimer's is a normal part of the aging process. Also, many are inclined to believe that Alzheimer's is punishment for something they've one in their early life. For this reason, it's important to communicate the facts surrounding the disease, which would help to demystifying it.
Resendez recommends equitable research funding, which would produce effective treatments and possibly a cure. He also recommends arming oneself with culturally appropriate public education resources, and tailored public policy solutions to undercut Alzheimer's disease.
Learn more about LatinosAgainstAlzheimer's, stigmas in the community, clinical trials, donating to stop Alzheimer's, important national facts and figures, early signs, supporting the fight against Alzheimer's and important information for caregivers.
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