Alzheimer’s Association 2021 study shows
sharp rise in diagnoses of disease





hispanic population believe cultural competency important in treatment





“People of color want their dementia care providers to understand their ethnic background and experiences. That’s called ‘cultural competency,’” explains Juliette Bradley, director of communications for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Heart of America Chapter.



BY JOE ARCE AND COREY CRABLE
An In-Depth Exclusive Report

The annual Facts and Figures Report released by the Alzheimer’s Association reveals disturbing upward trends in the numbers of people affected by the disease nationwide.


According to the report, one in nine Americans age 65 or older – that’s 6.2 million people – have Alzheimer’s dementia the number is a stark increase from 5.5 million the previous year. The report also revealed that a supermajority of Hispanic Americans surveyed for the report – 85 percent – believe that it’s important for members of the medical community to take into account their cultural heritage and related experiences in crafting a plan for their health care.


Cultural representation matters greatly at a time when individuals of color are distrustful of the medical community, according to Dr. Brandy Palacios, a physical therapist and instructor of anatomy and physiology at Maple Woods Community College.


“Some of the things I find from the report – for me as a person of color, it’s nothing new to me,” Palacios says. “I know about some of the medical oppression that has happened within the U.S. that leaves that skepticism in African American people such as myself. So often, we are not included in those medical structures.”


She continues, “The report says that two out of five Native Americans and Hispanics have experienced discrimination when seeking health care. Is it because there isn’t someone there who looks like them, or is there an ingrained thought that their medical needs might not be heard?”


Palacios and the Alzheimer’s Association’s Heart of America Chapter continue to work with communities of color and build trust and educational resources for Hispanic and other individuals in an attempt to lower the numbers of those affected by Alzheimer’s for future reports.


“People of color want their dementia care providers to understand their ethnic background and experiences. That’s called ‘cultural competency,’” explains Juliette Bradley, director of communications for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Heart of America Chapter, adding that the organization offers resources for caretakers as well. “Among non-white caregivers, more than half say they experience discrimination when caring for somebody.”


That discrimination, Bradley adds, can only make a bad situation worse for those caring for loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.


“Discrimination is a barrier to dementia care,” Bradley says. “And we are doing things to try to close that gap, like providing translators for Spanish-speaking individuals so they can provide that cultural competency. Or having a community forum, where Hispanic individuals can voice what they’re looking for in regards to dementia care and health care.”


Palacios says that in addition to the barrier of discrimination, Hispanics as a whole tend to avoid having to place their loved ones in a nursing or long-term care facility, instead opting to take care of their family members within the home. She says the association is trying to offer programs that better educate and connect Hispanics, African Americans, and other groups so they can don’t feel isolation. One way to do that, she says, is by offering workshops and support groups for family members and caretakers of Alzheimer’s patients.


“Because of some of those cultural norms we have – we keep our elders at home and take care of them -- we’re trying to broaden the view of our programs look like, in order to encompass all of the community,” Palacios says.


In addition to providing educational and medical resources for individuals, Bradley says the association also continues to team up with local non-profit organizations, many of which have earned the trust of the Hispanic community through their years of service.


“The Alzheimer’s Association is trying to restore trust with these communities and expand on it all of the time,” she says. “We want to reach into more of those community-based organizations they are the trusted sources in the communities, so we want to partner with them.”


Both Bradley and Palacios say that women – whether they are white, Black or Hispanic – are another group that is critical to educate after all, they tend to live longer than men, according to Bradley.


“I think something we must remind ourselves is that two-thirds of the population who has Alzheimer’s are women, and more than 60 percent of caregivers are women. Women are at the epicenter of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Bradley, adding that minority groups are hit particularly hard by the illness. “African American individuals are twice as likely to have an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and Latino individuals are one and a half times more likely to have a diagnosis. That has been going on for a few years.”


Though there is a clear gap in the needs of Hispanic people when it comes to access to and use of health care resources for cultural reasons, both Bradley and Palacios say there are ways to maintain a healthy body and brain as one ages in order to lessen the likelihood of a future Alzheimer’s diagnosis.


Maintaining a proper diet, for instance, can go a long way in maintaining good brain health, Bradley notes, though she understands the concerns of those who might believe eating well can be costly.


“We say that heart health and brain health go hand in hand,” she says. “A Mediterranean diet high in fish and nuts and legumes, that is what the Alzheimer’s Association is recommending as a heart-healthy diet. … It is a matter of knowing what your options are, and making good choices. I don’t think there’s ever a time when you can’t do right by yourself.”


Exercising, staying active with hobbies, and socializing are all ways that one can stay physically and mentally fit as they age, Bradley adds.


One trend that researchers continue to see on the rise is the number of younger people under the age of 65 who are being diagnosed. Bradley encourages people – young and old alike – to pay attention and take note of any cognitive changes when they can.


“Early-onset Alzheimer’s has always been around, but we are really asking people to seek cognitive assessments earlier,” she says. “The earlier the diagnosis, the better the future looks for the person with the diagnosis – physically, emotionally, financially. That’s just because people have better decisions to make when they are of a cognitive mindset when they are able to make those.”


The presence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the last year, meanwhile, has been a factor that may have led to such a great increase in the number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Bradley notes.


“Across the survey, 42,000 more deaths from Alzheimer’s or dementia occurred in 2020 than over the averages of the last five years. That’s a 16-percent increase,” Bradley reports. “In long-term care, there are a lot of situations that promoted the disease. It’s a very significant number, and it’s something we need to address. The kinds of things that are happening to those individuals in isolation is affecting them in ways we did not expect.”


Still, there is good news to be taken from this most recent report, Bradley says, including the amount of research being conducted in a search for treatments or even a cure.


“What we’re finding is, in the clinical trial world, the Alzheimer’s Association is the number-one nonprofit funder for Alzheimer’s research,” she says. “We have hundreds of clinical trials going on around the world, all of the time. We are funding clinical trials that are a little different, and we really believe that when a cure for Alzheimer’s is found, it will be found in a clinical trial. So, there is a lot of positive news on the research front.”


To read the full text of the 2021 report, visit www.alz.org/facts. For more information on the local chapter, visit www.alz.org/kansascity. If you are in need of assistance with a specific situation regarding a loved one with Alzheimer’s, call the organization’s 24-hour help line at 1-800-272-3900.



“We say that heart health and brain health go hand in hand,” said Dr. Brandy Palacios.