Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that affects well over 5 million people in the United States. Although there are more non-Hispanic white Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, studies indicate the probabilities of developing Alzheimer’s Disease are one and one-half times higher for Hispanics, than other demographics. This number will only continue to increase – with a projected estimate of as many as 13 million Hispanics suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease by 2050.
Yet, the increased risk across racial groups has little to do with genetics, but rather variations in health, lifestyle and socioeconomic factors. In fact, health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which are highly associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, are more prominent in African-Americans and Hispanics alike.
Lower socio-economic conditions often affiliated with Hispanics in the U.S. lead to poorer health conditions and increased stress. Other factors that correlate to this outcome include education and awareness of health-related issues. Consequently, Hispanics are more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease, but less likely to have it diagnose and in turn, less likely to receive treatment.
Moreover, various studies have proven that Alzheimer’s Disease and Down Syndrome are invariably linked, due to the shared genetic connection of Chromosome 21.
The cognitive abilities for adults with Down Syndrome vary greatly between each person. Some individuals can reach high academic abilities and can live independently, whereas others will always need assistance in everyday tasks, such as tying shoes and going to the bathroom. In order to be able to identify changes in the individual that may suggest the development of Alzheimer’s, it is important to have a good understanding of that person’s “baseline,” what he or she is capable of doing at their best throughout their adulthood. Latino’s often like to say “Eso se le va a pasar” (That will pass) or “Es que se está poniendo viejito” (He’s just getting a little old), instead of recognizing these blunders and the regress of normal capacities as big red flags of Alzheimer’s disease.
There are many ways to record “baseline” abilities throughout the individual’s life. The NTG-Early Detection Screen for Dementia (NTG- EDSD) is an instrument for follow-up and early detection, designed specifically for caregivers, in order to identify early signs and symptoms of dementia in adults with intellectual disabilities. Available both in English and Spanish, you can find NTG-EDSD resources and related materials at http://aadmd.org/ntg/screening.
Most importantly, Hispanics are less likely to use traditional health care services, as a result of the language barrier. Additionally, a leading majority of elderly Hispanics are first-generation immigrants whose proficiency in English is low. The lack of Spanish language fluency and cultural sensitivity in many healthcare systems impacting the ability to build trust among Hispanic elders. Needless to say, there is a tremendous need for change in our healthcare system to properly care for the growing Hispanic demographic. We often implement the following initiatives with our clients:
- Hiring bilingual and bicultural staff.
- Publish health related content in both English and Spanish to guarantee a higher audience reach and awareness; especially health insurance resources in Spanish.
- Increase outreach and prevention programs to promote healthy behaviors and facilitate early detection of disease and disorders; engaging the community early and often is key to improving health literacy.
- Implement a more culturally competent treatment service model for Hispanic patients.
Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome are an imminent public health issue that affects the lives of many, especially within the Hispanic community. Given the high percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. that lack proper healthcare services and their increased probability of developing dire health related issues such as Alzheimer’s, it is important to begin creating a more accessible and equitable healthcare system to what represents over 57.5 million people of the nation’s population.
Veronica Cool, CEO & Hispanic Strategist for Cool & Associates LLC (C&A). C&A helps corporations, nonprofits and government agencies effectively tap our nation’s robust Hispanic market. The firm provides essential tools and services for clients such as marketing and communications, outreach campaigns, training and staffing support, diversity & inclusion workshops, and other customized solutions to engage Hispanic businesses, customers, donors and students. C&A is a certified MBE firm, woman and Hispanic owned, proudly working to help clients penetrate the fastest growing segment of the population: Hispanics.