Minorities with Alzheimer’s often go untreated, report says

MIAMI (MCT) — African-American and Hispanic families who have relatives with Alzheimer’s are more likely to dismiss symptoms as part of the aging process, decreasing chances for an early diagnosis, according to a new survey.

The survey, released Tuesday morning, found that nearly 70 percent of blacks and Hispanics who responded in a telephone poll believed their loved one was exhibiting signs of old age, compared with about 50 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

The survey, which was sponsored by the New York-based Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, a national, nonprofit advocacy organization, measured the struggles, fears and misperceptions of caregivers. The poll, conducted Jan. 9 through Feb. 6, covered 655 adults.

Other findings showed that blacks and Hispanics were less likely to place their loved one in a nursing home or assisted-living facility and more likely to rely on support groups.

The results, ironically, come just as outreach teams from the state of Florida and the University of Miami begin an Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative specifically to reach African-American caregivers about the disease.

Researchers say widely held misperceptions about the disease could explain why blacks and Hispanics are diagnosed later, after the disease is in moderate or even late stages.

Part of that disconnect is associated with lack of education about the disease and stigma in some cultural groups, said Warachal E. Faison, a black physician who worked with the survey.

“Either they don’t know what the symptoms are or health professionals are not educating them,” Faison said.

Once they do visit a doctor, researchers say, drug therapies that could stave off deterioration are ineffective.

That scenario is all too familiar to Ronjon Duara, neurologist and medical director at the Wien Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla..

“The mind-set is that memory loss is expected,” said Duara, who was not a part of the research team. Duara said blacks and Hispanics are more likely to become concerned after a loved one has a problem remembering events from the distant past or childhood.

The family should bring anyone in as soon as he exhibits memory failure signs, said Trinidad Arguelles, a senior research associate for the Center on Aging at the University of Miami.

“What we have found throughout the years,” Arguelles said, is that families come in “when the behavioral problems are making an impact in the household, when they need help with behavior management.”

Gloria M. Peruyera, assistant director of UM’s Memory Disorders Clinic, said an outreach campaign five years ago in Miami’s Hispanic neighborhoods has improved that community’s overall response. But, she said, resistance remains.

‘They’ll say, ‘Oh, no. We don’t discuss our problems with other people,'” she said. “There’s still a lot of stigma. They see it as craziness.”

The national Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 4.5 million Americans have the affliction, more than double the number in 1980. That number could grow to as many as 16 million by 2050.

Doctors have long held that the two minority groups are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s, a disease that gradually robs people of their memory. A 2004 study by the association found that dementia-related illnesses could increase as much as six times among Hispanics by 2050.

Jose Rodriguez, 68, of Miami noticed subtle changes in his wife of 47 years, Ana, about nine years ago. She misplaced keys, forgot names. He shrugged it off.

“I knew she had a problem, but I didn’t know she had Alzheimer’s,” he said.

When the normally mild-mannered woman became confrontational and “was another person,” Rodriguez knew they had to visit a doctor. Ana Rodriguez, also 68, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003.

Rodriguez didn’t want to believe it and only told his children. “You really don’t realize what Alzheimer’s is until you go through it,” he said.