Roughly 5.8 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, and by 2050, that number is expected to increase to roughly 14 million. Over that time, the population with the largest projected increase in instances of the disease are Hispanic Americans, underscoring the need to address taboos and misconceptions and spread knowledge and resources within that community.
Last week, the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and Arizona State University’s recently established Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging partnered to host the first-ever Hispanics and Alzheimer’s Disease Conference at the Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix.
“While the Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging is not focused solely on Alzheimer’s disease, it is dedicated to improving the quality of life of older adults through education, prevention, care and research,” said David Coon, director of the center, which is housed in ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “We’re happy and excited to partner with Banner to reach out to the Hispanic community, who have been underserved in this area.”
Aside from increasing awareness, the other main goal of the conference was to educate the community about the importance of participating in clinical trials.
“At Banner, we have noticed there is a dire need to diversify our clinical trials,” said Daniel Viramontes Apodaca, clinical research coordinator with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. “So this initiative is part of our year of diversity, where we’re putting an emphasis on diversity in Alzheimer’s awareness.”
At the conference, Alzheimer's experts from Banner Health, ASU and the greater Phoenix area led simultaneous panels and discussions in both Spanish and English for a crowd of about 120 community members, many of whom were caregivers themselves.
Edward Quinones, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran, attended the conference Friday at the behest of his daughter, in hopes of learning more about caregiving resources and clinical trials. Quinones’ wife has been diagnosed with dementia, and he is in the process of being diagnosed himself.
“I don’t think there’s enough talk about it (in the Hispanic community),” Quinones said. “My understanding was always that it was just a part of getting older, just a part of life.”
That was one of many misconceptions addressed in a panel discussion titled “Fact or Fiction: The Truth about Alzheimer’s Disease,” led in Spanish by Claudia Fernandez of Hospice of the Valley and in English by Heather Mulder, outreach program senior manager at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.
Other myths busted by the panel:
- Forgetting what you ate for lunch is a normal part of aging: This is false because normal aging results in lapses in long-term memory while Alzheimer’s damages the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory.
- Men are affected more by Alzheimer’s: This is false because roughly two-thirds of women are affected by the disease while only about one-third of men are. The assumption used to be that this was because women lived longer, but recent findings indicate it may have something to do with how hormonal changes women experience during menopause affect their brains.
- Supplements help boost memory: This is false because supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way pharmaceutical drugs are, so there is no hard research to prove they boost memory. One of the best ways to boost memory is through mental exercise, such as games and hobbies, but the best mental exercise is to learn something new.
The discussion also covered the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s, risk factors, lifestyle factors and hope for the future.
Risk factors are something people have no control over, such as genetics and age, with age being the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s. At the age of 65, chances of developing the disease are about 1 in 8. Those chances double every five years, reaching nearly 50-50 by the age of 85. By the age of 95, however, the risk begins to drop off.
Lifestyle factors are something we do have control over, such as diet and health. Hispanics have a much higher rate — about two times higher — of developing Alzheimer’s than other populations because of higher incidences of diseases that affect the heart among the community. The good news is that following a healthy lifestyle plan to avoid such diseases drops the risk for Alzheimer’s considerably.
While about 80% of clinical trials are delayed or fail because of a lack of participants, much of the hope for the future lies in what doctors and scientists have been able to discover through that kind of research, highlighting the great need in that area.
“Your life does not end because you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” said Berta Carbajal, a research specialist at the Edson College and co-founder of the Promotores HOPE (Helping Other Promotores Excel) Network who led a discussion about caregiver concerns. “But culturally, it’s like we shut off, we go into denial. That’s why we want to be able to open up these doors of communication and talk about those fears and educate people about the resources and research opportunities available to them.”
Top photo: Attendees at the Banner Alzheimer's Insititute Hispanics and Alzheimer’s Disease Conference on Friday hold up paddles to indicate whether they think a statement about Alzheimer's disease is fact or fiction. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now