Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Arizona Seniors Help Improve Understanding of Alzheimer’s in the Latino Community

Jose Maria Burruel, an 84-year-old native of Phoenix, is helping improve medical care for Latinos by participating in an Alzheimer’s study at the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Arizona.  Mr. Burruel has also helped by inviting a doctor to speak at a gathering of his informal social club, known affectionately as El Grupo.  The group, consisting of around 100 of Burruel’s cohorts from high school, has contributed 20 other participants to the study, which seeks to advance the medical community’s understanding of aging in Latinos.

“We just know so much less about how Latinos age than how Caucasians age,” said Leslie Baxter, a researcher at the Barrow Institute.  This gap in understanding may be due in part to cultural factors.  Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, considers that cultural stigmas associated with disease and disability create obstacles to studying aging in Latinos.  “There’s a shame in admitting that a family member has dementia,” Cruz says. “It’s very hush-hush.”  Mr. Burruel also admitted candidly that “Latinos are very private. We don’t like things that invade our life, our sanctuary.”

Denial and reluctance to seek treatment can have serious consequences for Latinos, however.  Maria Carrillo, senior director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, says approximately 200,000 Latinos in the United States have Alzheimer’s, with the figure is projected to increase 600% by 2050.  Latinos are also prone to multiple risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, whose symptoms, on average, develop 7 years earlier in Latinos than in non-Hispanic Whites.

Leslie Baxter believes that there is much to learn from Latino caregivers about acceptance, patience and respect; strategies that could help other families coping with dementia.

As far as improving the outlook for the Latino community when it comes to preventing and treating Alzheimer’s, Yanira Cruz believes that better access to medical information in Spanish and more local senior health centers would give families the support they need. Getting recommended medical screenings and adopting healthful habits earlier would also boost disease prevention, says Cruz.

USA Today Article