Latinos make up approximately 17 percent of the population of the United States, and despite no genetic predisposition to the Alzheimer’s disease, this demographic is disproportionately affected by this degenerative brain condition.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by the year 2050, the rate of Latinos with Alzheimer’s disease is projected to increase 600 fold.
“Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease typically discovered as gradual memory loss sets in,” Roxann Cunningham, a Registered Nurse at Willow Point Nursing Home, Vestal, New York, told Saludify. “And memory is just the tip of the iceberg. Eventually individuals affected find Alzheimer’s interferes with daily activities, can cause personality changes and impairs judgement and learning. Unfortunately, it can even result in death.”
According to past studies, Latinos are 1.5 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease despite having no known genetic predisposition to the condition. More than 200,000 Latinos in the U.S. have this brain condition, and according to KCET, a MetLife Foundation organization, the reasons behind the disparity have more to do with chronic disease than any kind of hereditary factors.
“This is the tip of the iceberg of a huge public health challenge,” said Yanira L. Cruz, president of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, to the New York Times. “We really need to do more research in this population to really understand why is it that we’re developing these conditions much earlier.”
Why are there more Latinos with Alzheimer’s Disease?
The Alzheimer’s Association indicates there are several main factors that contribute to the high percentages of Latinos with Alzheimer’s Disease. Chronic illness tends to be the most influential of factors for Latinos, as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and stroke–all of which disproportionately affect Latinos–increase an individual’s risk for degenerative brain disease.
Age also affects how commonly Alzheimer’s disease is seen among the Latino population, and when speaking about degenerative brain disease, it is the single greatest risk factor for the condition.
Latinos will have an average life expectancy of 87 by the year 2050 and are already over represented among the aging population. For every 5 years over the age of 54 an individual’s risk for Alzheimer’s doubles until it is almost 50 percent for those over the age of 85.
By 2050, Latinos will make up more than 16 percent of the elderly population in the country.
But age and chronic disease are not the only reasons Latinos have an increase risk for degenerative brain disease.
Education is thought to play a role as studies suggest continued learning has some preventative ability when it comes to mental health and dementia. Latinos in the United States continue to be among those with the lowest education levels, and many Latinos have only 8 years of schooling or less.
These factors combined with acculturation stress and financial hardship, make Latinos the group in the U.S. with the most risk factors when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease.
“We are concerned that the Latino population may have the highest amount of risk factors and prevalence, in comparison to the other cultures,” Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer’s Association director of medical and scientific relations, told the New York Times.
What can be done to help decrease rates of Latinos with Alzheimer’s?
“There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease,” Cunningham told Saludify, “and when it comes to prevention, there are instances where genetics and unknown contributors nullify any efforts. Some research suggests that diet, exercise and mental stimulation can help decrease the risk of degenerative brain disease, but there is no way to say you can prevent the condition 100 percent.”
Experts indicate it is never too late to start preventing Alzheimer’s disease, and individuals in high-risk groups such as Latinos need to focus on eating right, staying active, reducing stress, engaging their brain, and staying socially active.
Latinos also need to work toward overcoming the cultural stigma associated with any brain disease or mental condition. Data indicates a fear of mental disease keeps many Latinos away from doctors and physicians who could address Alzheimer’s disease in the early stages.
“Early detection with any issue is important, including Alzheimer’s,” stated Cunningham. “It is possible to slow the development of the disease in some situations, but early detection is also important to help family members and the patient understand what to expect. For Latinos, who are so family-oriented, education about the disease is hugely important as the younger generations tend to be the caretakers for the older generations. In our facility, we rarely see Latino patients. Elder care appears to be an important part of Latino culture.”