Mexican Americans May Develop Cognitive Issues Earlier in Life

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • The opening paragraph of an Austin American Statesman story caught my eye last week: “New research suggest Mexican-Americans – a fast-growing group in Texas – might develop memory problems that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease as much as a decade earlier than non-Hispanics.”

    That sentence is important for many other parts of the United Stations since demographics are quickly shifting. In fact, Mexican Americans comprise 65 percent of the Hispanic population in the United States. And Hispanics comprised almost 17 percent of the total population in the United States in 2012. Take into account that Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than non-Hispanic whites. However, the diagnosis of cognitive impairment is often made later in this group.

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    Some of this shouldn’t be too surprising if you were following the news about Alzheimer’s a decade ago. In a 2004 report, the Alzheimer’s Association stated that the number of Hispanic elders who have some form of dementia could increase more than six times. As of 2004, there were 200,000 elders in this group diagnosed; however, it is estimated that as many as 1.3 million could be diagnosed by 2050. “Our projection of Alzheimer’s disease in Hispanics is conservative,” the report stated. “It assumes that prevalence of dementia in Hispanics/Latinos is the same as it is for the population as a whole.”

    The report’s authors point out that many risk factors are greater in this group. These factors include:

    • Age. The Alzheimer’s Association warns that Hispanics make up a disproportionate percentage in the older age groups who are the most at risk of developing dementia. The life expectancy for this demographic is projected to increase to 87 by 2050; furthermore, by this year, Hispanics will make up 16 percent of the United States’ total elderly population. Currently, that percentage is 5 percent.
    • Education. Hispanics have the lowest educational levels of any U.S. demographic group. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that ten percent of Hispanic elders have no formal education; furthermore, more than 50 percent have eight years of schooling or less.
    • Vascular disease risk factors. Hispanics and Latinos have a 64 percent higher incidence of diabetes (a risk factor for vascular disease) than non-Hispanic white Americans. Furthermore, researchers found that type 2 diabetes and hypertension contributed more to dementia in older Mexican Americans than in people who have European ancestry. Forty-three percent of older Mexican Americans who have dementia have had diabetes, a stroke or both. And in the study mentioned in the Austin American-Statesman story, researchers found that participants who were Mexican-American developed diabetes at a much earlier age (an average age of 48) than participants who were classified as non-Hispanics (average age of 57).

    Therefore, it’s really important that Mexican Americans are vigilant about seeing their doctors. However, the Alzheimer’s Association’s report points out that Hispanics and Latinos who have dementia are considered low users of formal services. Furthermore, among adults who have diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, this demographic group is less likely to seek medical attention to monitor and control these conditions. Therefore, the risk of dementia definitely increases for these people.

  • Another issue is that there often is a delay in diagnosis of cognitive impairment. The report points out that 40 percent of elderly Hispanics who were born in another country had undiagnosed cognitive symptoms for three or more years.
    And a final issue is that caregiving can become extremely burdensome with this group. That’s because people in this culture have a cultural value of family responsibility. The report calls for information, support and other services to be provide in a way that reinforces family values and also overcomes cultural barriers.

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Alzheimer’s Association. (2004). Hispanics/Latinos and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Roser, M. A. (2014). Mexican-Americans might face memory disorder 10 years earlier than others. Austin American-Statesman.

Published On: January 06, 2014