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Alzheimer’s Crisis Looms for Latinos

With higher risks and striking projections, dementia has far-reaching impact on Hispanics

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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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Latinos and Alzheimer's: A Growing Crisis

The latest research, getting a diagnosis, handling finances and coping with caregiving. 

Real stories, resources and advice

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.

Financial costs can also be upending. The estimated total lifetime expense of caring for someone with dementia is $377,621, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and 70 percent of that lifetime care is borne by family caregivers in the forms of unpaid caregiving and out-of-pocket expenses.

This is a reality many Latino caregivers know too well, with an estimated 40 percent taking a leave of absence from work, cutting back on hours, or stopping working entirely to care for their loved one, reports the National Institute on Aging. What’s more, indirect costs for Latinos with Alzheimer’s disease, including unpaid informal care and earnings lost, are projected to increase tenfold over the next four decades, according to research from UsAgainstAlzheimer’s. 

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This AARP project shines a spotlight on the current, and looming, dementia crisis that’s impacting Latinos in the U.S. Our reporting, available in both Spanish and English, explores efforts underway to understand why Latinos face a higher dementia risk and what’s being done to reverse troubling trends. We interviewed Latino caregivers, who offer guidance for others, and detail one woman’s firsthand experience with early-onset Alzheimer’s and the work she’s doing to help other minorities. 

Finally, the project offers expert advice for breaking through long-standing barriers to get a dementia diagnosis and navigating the financial complexities once one is given.

“At AARP, this project is crucial for those who wish to understand more about Alzheimer’s, which has disproportionately impacted Latinos ages 50-plus,” says Yvette Peña, AARP’s vice president of audience strategy in the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. “Educating our community and providing caregivers and their family members with the necessary tools and information to navigate this difficult disease is a mission AARP takes seriously. We aim to support those in need.”

Boosting Brain Health

As scientists search for answers as to why Latinos are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease, AARP research has found that Latinos are particularly receptive to adopting brain-healthy behaviors that may lower that risk.

Compared to non-Hispanic white adults, more Latino adults said they would be likely to exercise (64 percent vs. 58 percent), socialize (71 percent vs. 61 percent), eat right (75 percent vs. 67 percent), manage stress (74 percent vs. 66 percent), prioritize sleep (77 percent vs. 67 percent) and engage in brain-stimulating activities (74 percent vs. 72 percent) if they knew it would help them maintain their thinking skills.

“This [research] is a great opportunity to share knowledge and awareness amongst Hispanic communities that people can reduce their risks for cognitive decline and dementia as they age,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP’s senior vice president for policy and brain health and executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health. 

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