Latino friends join Alzheimer’s study, tackle ‘cultural’ issue

Filed under: Talk About Race |
By Mary Brophy Marcus, USA TODAY
José Maria Burruel was born in his grandmother’s home, a tent that sat between a ditch and a drainage canal on the outskirts of Phoenix. He says the family was fortunate to find a black physician to help with the birth. At that time, he says, local white doctors wouldn’t deliver Latino babies.

Now, at 84, the retired educator says he is helping improve medical care for other Latinos by participating in an Alzheimer’s study at nearby Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. He’s encouraging friends to do the same.

ALZHEIMER’S: Relentless upward trajectory

“We all have an obligation to contribute to the betterment of generations to come,” says Burruel, a great-grandfather and World War II veteran.

For more than a decade, Burruel, his wife, Frances, and friends from his old neighborhood high school, Phoenix Union, have been gathering at local restaurant Bit-zee Mama’s for comfort foods and company. The group of roughly 100 affectionately calls itself “El Grupo.”

More recently, after Burruel invited a Barrow doctor to speak at a get-together, about 20 El Grupo members decided to join Burruel in an Alzheimer’s study.

Barrow clinical neuropsychologist Leslie Baxter says El Grupo participants are giving researchers a unique opportunity to better understand how cultural factors influence aging and Alzheimer’s in the Latino community.

“We just know so much less about how Latinos age than how Caucasians age,” Baxter says.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that slowly erodes memory and ends in death. Maria Carrillo, senior director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, says about 200,000 Latinos have Alzheimer’s, and the figure is projected to increase 600% by 2050.

Conditions affecting Hispanics

A growing number of studies point to cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes – all conditions that affect Hispanics at high rates – as factors that may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s for Latinos, says Carrillo, who notes that Alzheimer’s symptoms begin, on average, almost seven years earlier in Latinos.

Burruel, who has not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, visits Barrow once a year and takes a battery of cognitive tests, which he says are taxing. He says some El Grupo members are hesitant to jump on the research bandwagon.

“You have to push people. It takes time out of your life, which we’re at the short end of now,” he says with a chuckle. “Latinos are very private. We don’t like things that invade our life, our sanctuary.”

For many, there’s also a taboo associated with the illness, says Yanira Cruz, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging. “There’s a shame in admitting that a family member has dementia,” Cruz says. “It’s very hush-hush.”

The downside of that denial is that diagnosis is delayed, and patients miss out on therapy that could ease symptoms, says neuroscientist Carrillo.

Read entire article in the USA TODAY


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Author: News Wire (24 Articles)

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