Alzheimer’s Exacts a Heavy Toll Among Latinos

Judith Graham, Chicago Tribune, November 21, 2010

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Alzheimer’s exacts a heavy toll among Latino Americans, who tend to get the condition almost seven years earlier than white Americans, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania and UC San Francisco.

Limited access to medical care and health insurance, lower levels of education and income, and higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes contribute to above-average risks for Alzheimer’s among Latino seniors, experts say.

The Alzheimer’s Assn. calls the situation “a looming but unrecognized public health crisis” and predicts that Alzheimer’s and related dementias could afflict 1.3 million older Latinos by 2050, up from about 200,000 currently.

In Chicago, a push to respond is being led by Constantina Mizis, a Mexican immigrant who founded the Latino Alzheimer’s & Memory Disorders Alliance, one of the few organizations of its kind in the country.

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Such efforts have to be undertaken with sensitivity, says Mizis, explaining that some Mexicans from rural areas believe Alzheimer’s is punishment for sins of youth. Others think of cognitive difficulties as “just part of age”–something that families have to accept without asking for assistance.

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In many Latino families, however, adult day care is considered a type of warehouse. “They believe that if you leave someone there you have abandoned this person,” Mizis said.

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Education can be a complicating factor. People who have not had much education, including many Latino immigrants, tend to score lower on memory tests, and adjustments are needed to account for that, said Maria Marquine, a neuropsychologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Language, too, can be a concern even when tests are translated into Spanish. Consider that car is carro in some Latino groups but auto and automovil in others, Marquine said. If the translation used in a memory test is unfamiliar, a senior’s score could be affected.

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