Being Dementia Friendly – Hispanics in the USA – Challenges & Cultural Differences

Challenges and cultural differences faced by Hispanics in the USA regarding dementia care
By C. Angela Burrow

I spoke with my friend and gerontologist, Aida, recently. She educated me on some facts and figures related to people living with dementia right now in the USA. Hispanics are about 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than whites, and they develop Alzheimer’s and other Dementias at an earlier age. For this reason, healthcare service providers need to have cultural sensitivity that will assist them in their work with all this diversity, because in the U.S.A. the population is NOT HOMOGENOUS and older adults come in all colors and from many different countries of origin.

Please read the rest of her reporting…

Aida P. Bertsch MA CDP CMDPC 

Latino Immigrants are the largest minority in U.S.A. totaling 17.8%. Mexicans account for 10.7% or 60% of Hispanics. Apart from Mexicans, other Hispanics are “not a homogenous” group, and include various nationalities from South America, Central America, and some Caribbean nations, with similarities but also different cultural norms. The terms Latino and Hispanic are used interchangeably but technically don’t have the same meaning. They refer to origin, ancestry and spoken language. Latinos can be of any race, white, black, mixed, and even Asian.

Here I am concentrating mainly on the Hispanic Populations from Mexico and Central America; regardless of the extent and diversity of these regions, there is one main commonality:

The image of Hispanics having large, close-knit families with grandparents or elderly relatives playing important family roles remains a constant. They live close to family members; you seldom see an elderly Hispanic living alone. Special living arrangements to accommodate long-term care expectations of older Hispanics are rooted in traditions that dictate reliance on family. From that perspective, isolation is not a measurable issue for older adults in Hispanic Communities.

A book from Harvard University’s Center for Latin American Studies, remarks that “There is consistent bias towards assuming that because Hispanics are expected to be of low socioeconomic status, their health must show adverse indicators.” On the contrary, the book says that Latinos in fact do not exhibit these adverse indicators. “The solid family ties are essential for preserving health and it is  what saves Latinos”.

Large numbers of Hispanics come from Mexico and Central American Countries (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador) from rural, remote areas with limited schooling, where they  led lives that involved manual labor, with traditionally close family ties. The women take pride preparing home cooked meals always from scratch. Their active lifestyle and good eating are attributed to  longer life expectancy, which is estimated will increase to mid-80’s by 2050, surpassing other population groups in the U.S.

The Huffington Post published an article some time ago referring to what they called “The Hispanic Paradox”… The principal idea was that Hispanics live longer than other U.S. groups including Caucasians who have clear advantages in terms of education, good healthcare, and better incomes. However, a longer life does not necessarily equal a healthier life.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Hispanics are about 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than whites, and they develop Alzheimer’s and other Dementias at an earlier age.

Hispanics have higher rates of cardiovascular risk factors. Higher rates of high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol, and higher rates of diabetes. All the above are high risk factors for Alzheimer’s, Vascular and Stroke-Related Dementias. The Alzheimer’s Association has expressed concern about the Latino population having the highest number of risk factors, in comparison to other groups.

According to the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NCOA), traditionally, family members care for the elderly, and while this care contributes to Hispanics living longer, it can also delay the diagnosis of dementia or other serious conditions.

The Duke University School of Medicine compiled a report which concluded that 43% of Hispanics say they have problems communicating with doctors. This language barrier is even bigger for older Hispanics. By living in close-knit groups, they never learn English and postpone going to the doctor. This can have implications for diagnosis and treatment and a serious negative impact on their health. When seeing a doctor, it is challenging to find one fluent in Spanish or a reliable interpreter.