As Baby Boomers age, the number of Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses in the United States is increasing. Minority groups (Latinos in particular) are hit especially hard by this condition.
Keep reading to learn how to identify the warning signs of this vicious disease and protect your loved ones.
An Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia and the sixth most common cause of death in the United States. In Alzheimer’s patients, proteins form plaques and tangles in the brain, damaging and eventually killing neurons. As this process progresses, patients exhibit memory loss, cognitive dysfunction, and other symptoms. Eventually, the plaques and tangles significantly shrink the brain’s size, causing profound disability. Patients can become bedridden as their brains slowly shut down.
While we don’t yet know all the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, there are some clear risk factors.
- The disease has a strong genetic component. If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s, you’re more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.
- Older Americans are more likely to get an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
- Head trauma increases your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.
- People with diabetes or heart and vascular disease are more likely to get an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s research is ongoing, and hopefully, we will continue expanding our understanding of the causes of this and other forms of dementia in the future.
Why Are Latinos and Other Minority Groups More Likely to Get Alzheimer’s?
While the number of Alzheimer’s diagnoses is skyrocketing in the United States, it disproportionately impacts minority groups. Latinos are 50% more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease than non-Latinos. Some researchers estimate that the number of Latinos with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis will increase roughly 800% by 2060.
Why are so many more Latinos and minorities getting Alzheimer’s diagnoses? While we don’t know the exact answer, it’s probably multi-factorial.
- Alzheimer’s is typically a disease that afflicts seniors. On average, Latinos live longer than non-Latinos, and the aging Latino population is growing.
- Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans run a higher risk of heart disease than other ethnic groups, which is a condition commonly linked to dementia.
Researchers are also calling for an increased investigation into potential genetic causes of Alzheimer’s disease’s prevalence in minority communities.
Latinos and Other Minorities Don’t Always Benefit from an Early Diagnosis
While there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, early diagnosis can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life. There are medications that can slow the progression of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors and counselors can also teach patients and their families healthy coping mechanisms, and advanced planning can ease your loved one’s end-of-life care.
Unfortunately, many Latino and African-American Alzheimer’s patients aren’t diagnosed until their disease has progressed significantly. Experts link this is to a lack of information about the warning signs of dementia and a cultural discomfort with the disease. While community organizations are working to build awareness and encourage early treatment, there is still room for improvement.
We all need to understand Alzheimer’s disease and speak up when we see its warning signs. Stay on the lookout for early symptoms of dementia, including:
- Memory problems that impact your daily routine, especially problems with short-term memory
- Difficulties solving problems and working with numbers
- Confusion about time and place
- Problems conversing with other people, such as losing track of a discussion or struggling to find your words
- Misplacing items and being unable to retrace your steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Mood and personality changes
If you’re worried about someone’s memory loss and/or cognitive function, don’t be afraid to address those concerns. Your primary care physician (PCP) can help monitor potential memory issues and refer you or a loved one to a specialist if needed.
Cutting Edge Alzheimer’s Research is Happening in the Bay Area
The UCSF Memory and Aging Center is a National Institutes of Health Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. The center engages in leading edge Alzheimer’s and dementia research, and its staff cares for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. A team of providers — including neurologists, neuropsychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, and nurses — deliver exceptional care to those struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. Patients can also participate in clinical trials at the center.
As a member of the Canopy Health Alliance, you can request a referral for yourself or for a loved one under your care to the Memory and Aging Center or to other exceptional dementia specialists in our community. To find a specialist, search our physician directoryand consult with your primary care physician.
Haan, M., Mungas, D., Gonzalez, H., Ortiz, T., Acharya, A., & Jagust, W. (2003, January 31). Prevalence of Dementia in older Latinos: The influence of type 2 diabetes mellitus, stroke and genetic factors. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1532-5415.2003.51054.x
Vega, I., Cabrera, L., Wygant, C., Velez-Ortiz, D., & Counts, S. (2017). Alzheimer’s disease in the Latino community: Intersection of genetics and social determinants of health. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5874398/