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As the Latino Population Ages, Cases of Alzheimer’s Predicted to Increase

TOLEDO, OH, Sept. 2020: Christopher Martínez said his dad was the ultimate caregiver for his mother, Merida, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

“He bore the brunt of everything,” Martinez said. He chose that he was going to take care of her no matter what. He was not even going to consider putting her in a nursing home or anything like that,” said Martínez of Sylvania.

“At first, when she was getting bad, he would explain to everybody when we went places that she had Alzheimer’s. It started to take a toll on him. In the end, he was physically and mentally exhausted. None of us could help. Or we could only help so much. He chose to do that. God love him for that. I can’t believe he took on that challenge,” Martínez said.

Martínez’s mother died in June 2019. A mother of eight children, she didn’t recognize her husband toward the end and even though she was home, she would say she wanted to go home.

Dementia researchers and public health experts are zeroing in on dementia risk factors, including lifestyle and genetics, in the Hispanic community. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that by 2060 the number of Latinos age 65 and older is expected to nearly quadruple, and that Latinos will face the largest increase in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias cases of any racial/ethnic group in the United States. Because age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, that means there will be more Latinos with the disease in the years ahead—about 3.5 million in the United States by 2060, according to the NIA.

Currently, Hispanics are about 1.5 times more likely to develop dementia than non-Hispanic whites, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s Facts and Figures report. New research released this summer is helping dementia experts understand how genetic predictors of Alzheimer’s risk may differ among Hispanics of different backgrounds/heritage, and between Hispanic and White individuals.

"We need to advocate and focus in on research, understand the risk factors and dramatically improve the timeliness of diagnoses,” said Julia Pechlivanos, Executive Director of the Alzheimer's Association Northwest Ohio Chapter. “Dementia is a looming but under-recognized public health crisis in Hispanic/Latin American communities in the United States.”

Alzheimer's is a progressive brain disease that affects memory, thinking and behavior. In Ohio, there are 220,000 individuals aged 65 and older living with the disease. There currently is no cure for the disease.

“Alzheimer’s is a disease that does not discriminate. It can’t be prevented, and it can’t be slowed,” Pechlivanos said. “But we know that when the Association provides families with education about the disease and offers support for caregivers, it makes a great difference.”

Alberto Williams-Medina was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico but spent most of his time in Vega Alta, on the northern coast of the island. He said he grew up with his grandparents and his great grandparents and was taught to care and respect his elders. His great-grandmother had Alzheimer’s which they called “senil demencia.”

“You could see it in her eyes, she was physically there but she wasn’t there,” Williams said. He remembers being around 12 years old cooking for her and helping to give her medications. “I would talk to her and she would drift off a lot of times. It’s a very hard experience to live,” he said. “Because of my family pushing me to care for my elders….I found joy doing it.”

Today, he is in the Master's in Medical Physiology program at Case Western Reserve University and will start volunteering as an Alzheimer’s Association community educator to give programs in Spanish. Sacred Heart Chapel in Lorain, Ohio, whose congregation is comprised of mostly Puerto Rican and Mexican families, with a smattering of people from Central America and Latin America, will be his first assignment. “It’s absolutely necessary to cater to the needs of the Hispanic, Latino, Latinx communities,” he said. “I think the Alzheimer’s Association trying to immerse themselves in the culture is beautiful,” Williams said. “That makes us think we are valued. It’s not just a one-size-fits-all.”

S. Cathy McConnell, Pastoral Associate at Sacred Heart Chapel, wants to make that connection because she knows how important it is for families to connect with resources about Alzheimer’s and dementia. Her mother had Lewy body dementia, the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s. “When people say they have someone who is sick, dying or has Alzheimer’s I immediately refer them,” she said.

“I was a caregiver for my mother. There were nine of us, we were a team and we were able to keep mom home. I’ve noticed the community here, many of them do the same thing, the problem is they are not given the same tools,” Sister Cathy said.

“(Caregivers) can be so frustrated and feel overwhelmed but when they have tools to cope it is better,” she said. In her congregation, she said, most are not sole caregivers. “There is a network there,” she said.

Sister Cathy said she is not sure about the scientific differences as to why Alzheimer’s may impact the Latino community more, “but the way that the community deals with it may be different. I think there is a little bit more patience when mom forgets something. In the mainstream community it’s more about let’s find a facility for mom.”

Martinez, his sister Gina Martínez-Villagomez and sister Cynthia Neptune all helped in their mother’s care. Neptune, who lived next door to her parents, said the hardest part for her was seeing her mother progressively get worse. “I would go over to the house and I would come back and I would just be crying because I knew she was slowly slipping away.”


About Alzheimer’s Association®

The Alzheimer's Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's®. Visit www.alz.org/wv or call our 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.



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Revised: 09/29/20 18:23:51 -0700.




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