Cultural And Economic Barriers May Put Latinos At Higher Risk For Alzheimer’s Disease | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Cultural And Economic Barriers May Put Latinos At Higher Risk For Alzheimer’s Disease

There’s a crisis brewing in the Latino community when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, and Illinois is not immune.

By 2060, the number of Latinos in the United States living with the condition is expected to rise to 3.5 million. That’s up from just 379,000 in 2012.

Nationwide, Latinos are also 50 percent more likely to develop the disease than whites, according to a 2016 study from the University of Southern California.

Here in Illinois, Alzheimer’s Disease is already the sixth leading cause of death. More than 220,000 residents aged 65 and older are living with the condition.

No one knows exactly why Alzheimer’s cases is hitting Latinos so hard, but experts point out a few factors: Latinos are less likely to seek formal treatment for the condition than whites and often face language and cultural barriers when accessing care.

In this interview, Morning Shift explores the dynamics of Alzheimer’s disease in the Latino community in our area and what local doctors and organizations are doing to address the meteoric rise of the disease.

On recognizing the warning signs

Tony Sarabia: For those who don't know, what are the warning signs of Alzheimer's? 

Dr. David Marquez: Usually Alzheimer's will start with memory problems... and those are the types of symptoms that people will notice at first. It's difficult sometimes because we have decreases in cognition in memory as we age so at times, it's difficult to tell what is the difference between forgetfulness — changes in cognition that might naturally occur — versus those that might be happening with something more clinical like Alzheimer's Disease.

On why Latinos are more vulnerable 

Tony: Is it being diagnosed on the level within the White population? 

Marquez: It's hard to say definitively... I would say probably not. In order to be diagnosed there has to be a doctor, a physician, who's diagnosing that so whether or not people have access to doctors is one issue. We know that Latinos are less likely to have health insurance than other races and ethnicities. Then you get into the specialty of say a neuropsychologist — those people who specialize in brain health — and the extent to which there are those providers who speak Spanish, who culturally can understand where the person is coming from.

On cultural barriers

Tony: I was reading that study from 2016 and one of the things that popped out was when they asked some Latinos about AD and what they think caused it, some of the answers were: people are thinking too much or it's a personality thing.

Marquez: This is where the information need to get our there that it's a disease. There are actual changes going on in the brain. It's not just somebody going crazy or their personality is just changing or oh this is just normal aging. No, it's not. There is a disease that is manifesting itself [and] causing these issues. 

On family members as caregivers

Tony: How is LAMDA addressing this within the Latino community? 

Constantina Mizis: Well LAMDA's mission is to take care of the caregivers. We are not focused on research, we are not focused on the clinical side. We are focused on the caregivers and the caregivers are family relatives [sic]. We serve them, we provide them to find ways about financial... because they have a lot of stress. First of all, they stop working full time because they have to use those hours to take care of their loved ones. And then they have this stress, anxiety, depression.

On staying active

Tony: One of the things LAMDA does to celebrate life is they have a music and dance therapy programs for elderly caregivers. Talk a little bit about that.

Mizis: If you have a lot of energy, you can be there too... they are there form Monday through Thursday. Between 44-50 people get together in Melrose Park for dancing and singing. It's incredible how many hours -— I'm talking about from 10 o'clock through 4 o'clock and they are there enjoying and they get mad if somebody else takes their turn. They get mad if they are a couple and another senior would like to dance with the wife of another senior. What is good about this is that people that were isolated... they are there.

GUESTS: Dr. David X. Marquez, lead investigator of a Rush University Medical Center study focused on Alzheimer’s disease risk factors in older Latino adults

Constantina Mizis, founder of the Latino Alzheimer's and Memory Disorders Alliance (LAMDA) which helps connect area Latino families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia to resources

LEARN MORE: Alzheimer's in Latinos expected to increase by more than 800%. Chicago researchers are trying to change that. (Chicago Tribune 5/29/18)

Latinos and Alzheimer’s Disease: New Numbers Behind the Crisis (USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging)

Alzheimer’s Statistics: Illinois (Alzheimer’s Association)

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