By Dr. Yanira Cruz.
NHCOA/May 2017.- The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) continues its work by looking for strategies that amplify the voices and needs of thousands of families that have a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. These strategies will shed light on the specific needs of Latino families, ensuring that they can be considered in the decision-making process related to caregiving and treatment.
Latinos are one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than whites, and Latinos are also at a higher risk of developing other dementias than Blacks and whites. This is due to several factors including 1) high rates of chronic disease such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, which are known risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and 2) the longer life expectancy of Latinos, which is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
In addition to the stated risk factors, Latinos also face many health disparities, including high levels of food insecurity and lack of health insurance. Around 18% of Hispanic older adults live below the poverty line compared with 8% non-Hispanic whites. Over 26% of Hispanic older adults lack health insurance, compared to 10.5% of non-Hispanics, making it difficult for Hispanics to access quality healthcare.
All these health disparities contribute to the rise in cases of Alzheimer’s among Latinos. Unfortunately, the number of diagnosed cases of Alzheimer’s among Latinos is only expected to rise, reaching an estimated 1.3 million Latino seniors by 2050.
This situation is even more heart breaking because many Latino families and caregivers do not have the financial resources or the support network to face the challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. In fact, the average Hispanic caregiver’s household income is $38,600, well below the national median ($54,700 – 42% less). As a consequence, Hispanic caregivers are more vulnerable to suffer from financial strain and emotional stress.
Hispanic older adults and their caregivers lack information and services that take into account their specific linguistic, cultural, and age-sensitive needs. There is a great disconnect between programs and services available and Latino beneficiaries resulting in the feeling of isolation for many of them.
In the light of these challenges, NHCOA continues to educate, promote and advocate for the wellbeing of Hispanic older adults and their caregivers. Specifically, NHCOA advocates to:
- Prioritize aging and family caregiving in the allocation of resources and funding opportunities,
- Ensure that programs and benefits address the needs of the growing aging Hispanic population,
- Strives to close the health-related disparities gap that exists for Hispanic older adults, their families and caregivers through programs and initiatives such as its Salud y Bienestar program and Paid Leave initiative, and
- Create culturally appropriate and age-sensitive volunteer networks that work with community-based organizations to provide Latino families and caregivers with information about social programs and how to access them.
Breaking stigmas, creating awareness, and increasing age-sensitive education are three key ways in which Latinos living with Alzheimer’s, their families and their caregivers can have improved qualities of life.