Hispanics Have More Risk Factors For Alzheimer's

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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The New York Times on Tuesday examined research that found "many Hispanics may have more risk factors for developing dementia than other groups" and that a "significant number appear to be getting Alzheimer's earlier" than most U.S. residents, who commonly develop the disease in their 70s or 80s. According to the Alzheimer's Association, about 200,000 Hispanics in the U.S. have the condition but the number could increase to 1.3 million by 2050. "This is the tip of the iceberg of a huge public health challenge," Yanira Cruz, president of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, said, adding, "We really need to do more research in this population to really understand why it is that we're developing these conditions much earlier."

Overall, the number of U.S. residents with Alzheimer's is expected to increase from five million in 2008 to 16 million in 2050. According to experts, Hispanics are not more genetically predisposed to Alzheimer's but factors related to low income or cultural dislocation -- such as higher rates of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, stroke and high blood pressure -- may put them at a higher risk for dementia. Cruz said the immigration experience, along with the changes in diet and social network that it entails, could play a role in increased the risk of Alzheimer's. She said, "As you acculturate, you lose those protective factors linked to nutrition, physical activity [and a] social support system that come with you when you first arrive here."

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According to the Times, less education also could make this group more vulnerable to risk factors and to dementia because, scientists say, education may increase the plasticity of the brain and its ability to compensate for symptoms. Some research also cites stress related to financial troubles or cultural adjustment as risk factors for dementia. In addition, Hispanics, who are less likely to see doctors because of financial and language barriers, often mistake the symptoms of dementia as a result of aging, according to the Times. "There's some taboos," Liany Arroyo, director of the Institute for Hispanic Health at the National Council of La Raza, said, adding that surveys his group completed indicated that some Hispanics "do not necessarily understand" what Alzheimer's is.

Alzheimer's and Hispanic groups have responded to such findings by setting up health fairs and support groups, the Times reports. Some Alzheimer's centers have opened offices in Hispanic neighborhoods, according to the Times (Belluck, New York Times, 10/21).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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