‘Drowning In Alzheimer’s’: Minorities Struggle With Dementia

Madison Park, CNN, March 9, 2010

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Minorities such as Terrazas are at greater risk for the degenerative disease, according to an Alzheimer’s Association report released Tuesday. It found that African-Americans are about two times more likely and Hispanics are about 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The reasons why minorities are at higher risk are unclear but not believed to be genetic.

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But Alzheimer’s for minorities presents unique challenges. Socioeconomic disparities can prevent access to health care, early detection or proper management of other conditions linked to the disease such as high blood pressure or diabetes, said Angela Geiger, the chief strategy officer for the Alzheimer’s Association.

“African-Americans and Hispanics are less likely to know they have Alzheimer’s and dementia,” she said. “That has significant impact on the quality of life.”

Some families ignore the symptoms, such as behavioral changes and memory loss, because their culture respects the elderly so much that they try to conceal their flaws, said Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Minorities may not get early treatment, when medications are more likely to be effective and when patients are more capable of making plans, according to the report. At doctor’s offices, some can encounter language barriers and difficulties navigating a complicated health care system.

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Minority families often feel a filial obligation to take care of their elderly at home, said Gallagher-Thompson, who is also director of the Stanford Geriatric Education Center.

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[“2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures,” along with related materials, is available from the Alzheimer’s Association here.]

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