Nearly every day of the week, a New Yorker suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is reported missing to the New York City chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, which works with police, hospitals, nursing centers and sometimes morgues to help families and caregivers locate loved ones who have wandered away.
Wandering episodes are a common symptom of Alzheimer’s, which is marked by the gradual loss of memory and other cognitive functions. But too few Latinos are enrolled in the association’s Safe Return program and other services, said Roberto Reyes Jr., Latino outreach manager for the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It’s definitely a cultural thing…everybody has their stereotypes and their prejudices,” said Reyes. “Alzheimer’s is really something that’s still unknown. It’s something that really does affect the community, and you just didn’t know what it was because you chose to call it another name or say that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Reyes and more than 100 other caregivers and community members gathered for a seminar at the NYU Langone Medical Center on September 25 to help bridge that gap through education. Speakers from Spain, NYU School of Medicine and City University of New York briefed participants on the latest in Alzheimer’s research and care – all in Spanish.
“Hispanics tend to keep their family members at home and provide care throughout all the stages, and tend not to use long-term care facilities,” said Dr. James Galvin, director of the Pearl I. Barlow Center for Memory Evaluation and Treatment at NYU Langone and the event’s organizer. “Part of caring for the patient is also learning to care for yourself, so we wanted to be able to give a global view of the disease.”
Alzheimer’s is more common in today’s aging U.S. population than in the past, but studies suggest that the disease may also be more prevalent in Hispanics than in whites. Research indicates that older Hispanic adults develop symptoms seven years earlier than older whites and live with the disease up to eight years longer, said Galvin.
“There are some differences that are difficult to explain and that’s why more research needs to be done,” said Galvin. “You have to know your community, you need to educate your community. Only then will you have their trust to do further research.”
Dr. Fernando Goni, an adjunct associate professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine who was born in Argentina, said that the earlier Alzheimer’s is diagnosed and acted upon, the better the results are likely to be. Getting information out to the Hispanic community in Spanish will help, he said.
“We have to act, we have to take charge of this,” said Goni. “We have to really start thinking in a different way. We have to get all the support we can by learning and seeing the challenges and how it affects us as a community.”
Reyes said that when he talks to Latinos about Alzheimer’s, his goal is to show them their options and help them do what is best for their aging relatives. The wrong thing to do, he said, is ignore the problem.
“Seek the information from the professionals,” he said. “It is not the end, there are ways to live with the disease and to cherish that loved one, and have that loved one come back to you for periods of time.”
Upcoming Event: “Alzheimer’s Disease in the Latino Community and the Challenges We Face,” October 15, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Lincoln Hospital, 234 East 149th Street, Auditorium, Bronx. Register online at http://www.alznyc.org/ADLC. For more information, contact Roberto Reyes at the Alzheimer’s Association, NYC Chapter, (646) 744-2900.