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Hispanics and Dementia: There is a Link, But Why?

September 15th through October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month. And certainly, there is much to celebrate. Hispanics continue to make groundbreaking contributions to their local communities and to society at large. Whether they are writers, educators, artists, service workers, or caregivers, their presence and productivity is an integral part of American life, and their contributions deserve recognition and praise.

Behind these contributions, however, is an ongoing struggle to address issues in Hispanic communities which have been traditionally underserved. One of these issues is healthcare. These struggles are particularly evident in the numbers of Hispanics who are living with dementia. Did you know that, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 15% of Hispanics have a form of dementia? A startling number when compared with 10% of the general population, according to a study by Columbia University.  

The first question you might be asking is “why”? The Alzheimer’s Association has studied the link between Hispanics and dementia. Here are some of their findings from surveys conducted as part of their special report on Race, Ethnicity and Alzheimer’s in America:

  • Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely than Caucasians to have dementia. There is more research required to better understand why.
  • 57% of Hispanics believe that significant memory/cognitive loss is just part of normal aging.
  • 33% report feeling discriminated against when seeking health care.
  • 85% of Hispanics believe that it is important for those caring for individuals with dementia to better understand their racial/ethnic background and experiences.

These facts may contribute to the reason why over half of Hispanics surveyed report that they are reluctant to be part of a clinical trial. Many remarked that they don’t want to be “guinea pigs”.

There are other factors, however, that may play a role in the higher numbers of Hispanics living with dementia. One is socioeconomic, according to Maria Mora Pinzon, M.D, M.S. and a scientist at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Socioeconomic factors such as education, income, and occupation deeply affect the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, and usually sustain and worsen health disparities,” she explained during a presentation at the Latinos & Alzheimer’s Symposium in 2021.

Clearly there is work to be done. Fortunately, The Alzheimer’s Association continues to support initiatives to further explore the link between Hispanics and dementia and to promote programs that improve the healthcare industry’s understanding of the challenges facing so many Hispanics today.

Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time to focus on the contribution of Hispanics throughout history. And, as pointed out above, it is also a time to reflect on the needs of their underserved communities as we continue the fight to end Alzheimer’s disease for all Americans for generations to come.