AARP Eye Center
More than 6 million Americans are battling Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, but some groups are shouldering a greater burden than others. And Latinos rank toward the top of the list.
The population is 1.5 times more likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, research shows. And because age is the greatest risk factor for dementia, Latinos — whose older adult population is predicted to nearly quadruple by 2060 — are expected to experience the sharpest increase in Alzheimer’s cases of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. over the next few decades.
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Given the circumstances, “there is a great demand among the Hispanic population for better treatments, better solutions and better care,” says Eliezer Masliah, M.D., director of the Division of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging.
Scientists and scholars are racing to meet these demands. More inclusive research efforts have ramped up to study if certain risk factors — whether genetic, environmental or lifestyle — may be contributing to the greater dementia burden among Latinos. The hope is that pinning down contributing causes can guide tailored approaches to prevention and treatment.
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Health experts and health care providers are also finding better ways to detect dementia in Latino patients by bridging gaps that have kept many from getting a diagnosis. Culturally sensitive screening tools are replacing tests that have long failed to account for racial and ethnic differences. And work is being done to dismantle perceptions in some cultures that a deteriorating memory is a normal part of aging.
Still, with no cure and an empty slate of effective treatments, many Latino families are rearranging their lives at significant personal cost to take care of loved ones. “Your life has to be built around caring for this person. Your life changes completely,” Perla Castro told AARP. The Guatemalan-born Chicago resident now cares for her 71-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer’s.