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We know Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than whites.
Now a new study shows that Latinos experience slightly different signs and symptoms of dementia, with more depression and anxiety and a faster rate of functional decline than Blacks or non-Hispanic Whites, AARP reports.
Anxiety and depression are risk factors for dementia. Studies have suggested anxiety and depression can cause early manifestations of abnormal protein accumulations in the brain — amyloid and tau — which lead to dementia.
In the new study of 5,000 people, researchers found more anxiety among Latinos (25.6 %) than Blacks (16.3 %) or Whites (11.3 %).
“We need to do a better job of making mental health services accessible for these groups, with culturally informed providers who speak the same language. It has to start with people feeling comfortable talking about their anxiety and depression and being able to express their thoughts to the right provider,” said Michael Cuccaro of the University of Miami, who co-led the study and presented it at this recent Latinos and Alzheimer’s Symposium, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, according to AARP.
What Is the Issue with Mental Health and Latinos?
Disparities exist in receiving a mental health diagnosis across among people of color than Whites, according to a new analysis by athenahealth.
“White patients were more likely to discuss anxiety and depression with a primary care provider, and significantly more likely to be diagnosed with either condition — compared to Asian, African American, or Black, and Hispanic/Latino patients,” according to the analysis.
Latinos are more likely than their peers to have mental health issues like depression. These issues often go unaddressed and untreated, according to a Salud America! research review.
Only 33% of Latinos with a mental illness receive treatment each year. This is below the U.S. average of 43%.
Latinos are more likely to report that they did not think they needed treatment compared to Black or White people. Stigma, access to care, and language barriers are a few of the other reasons for mental health disparities.
“We have lots of great evidence that medications and talk therapy help, but minorities have the lowest rates of getting this help,” Cuccaro said.
What Is the Issue with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Latinos?
Brain health is just as critical as mental health for Latinos.
The percentage of Latinos ages 65 and older in the U.S. will triple by the year 2050.
Compared to other racial/ethnic ethnic groups, Latinos will experience the largest increase in Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias by 2060, possibly growing 832%, according to a report from the University of Southern California and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s.
Latinos are also at risk for Alzheimer’s because of medical conditions that are considered risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s – like high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease – which are all prevalent among older Latinos.
In addition to Cuccaro’s work, another study found that “dementia alters the daily lives of Hispanics much more than it does the lives of Black or white patients,” AARP reports.
“After taking into account variables like age, sex and education, she found that Blacks and non-Hispanic whites had similar levels of physical impairment, while the Hispanic subjects had significantly worse function in measures like grasping objects, getting up and down, walking and dressing,” the report states.
These disparities make early diagnosis critical.
It also makes it important to recruit Latinos into dementia clinical trials. But they are not well represented.
“In fact, Latinos make up just 7.5 percent of research participants across 32 federally funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers. This despite the fact that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in Latinos is at least 50 percent greater than among non-Latino whites, the University of Southern California and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s report shows,” AARP reports.
What Should We Do for Latinos in Mental and Brain Health?
Latinos and other people of color need equitable access to mental and brain health care.
Increasing Latinos in Alzheimer’s clinical trials is the aim of a new study by Dr. Amelie Ramirez, leader of the IHPR and Salud America! program at UT Health San Antonio.
The project, supported by a grant from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, aims to break down racial/ethnic barriers to diverse trial participation.
“Our new project will allow us to use culturally relevant digital health communications, advocacy networks, and clinical partnerships to promote health equity and advance clinical trials for cancer treatment and Alzheimer’s disease among Latinos,” Ramirez said.
Program school leaders, and healthcare leaders should also ensure mental health care for Latino children is sensitive to issues among Latinos.
It is important examine the role of culture in mental health stigma.
“Community centers and nonprofit organizations that are easily accessible to immigrant families should consider incorporating culturally relevant mental health programs into other programs, especially those that include physical activity and wellness,” according to a Salud America! research review.
What Can You Do in Your Community?
You can also get involved in breaking down the inequities that drive health disparities.
Downloading a “Health Equity Report Card” for your area!
Select your county name and get a customized Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. See how your area stacks up in housing, transit, poverty, health care, healthy food, and other health equity issues compared to the rest of your state and nation.
You can email your Health Equity Report Card, share it on social media. You can also use it to make the case for community change to boost health equity.