Hispanic community urged to learn more about Alzheimer’s

ROCHESTER — More people in the Hispanic community need to become familiar with the signs of dementia in order to help their family members who may be diagnosed with the brain disorder, said Deacon Bienvenido DeJesus, whose mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

"Cuando mi mama estuvo esta enfermedad, no lo conocíamos," al principio, Deacon DeJesus explained about his family’s struggles to comprehend what his mother was going through before she was diagnosed.

Once the family learned more about the condition, however, it pulled together to help his mother, Deacon DeJesus remarked during a workshop about dementia and Alzheimer’s conducted in Spanish at Our Lady of the Americas Parish Jan. 31. Because of that experience, he recommended that people who suspects their elderly relatives may be experiencing symptoms of the disease get information from their family’s doctor as well as contact such agencies as the Alzheimer’s Association or Ibero-American Action League for education and support. Ibero provided Deacon DeJesus’ family with information on day programs so he and his wife, Priscilla, could continue working while caring for his mother.

According to research from the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s affects minority communities disproportionately and rates are higher for Hispanics than any other group. The national research also shows that imparting information about this disease is imperative, as the number of Hispanic senior citizens is expected to increase from 200,000 in 2004 to 1.3 million people by 2050.

That’s why the association has begun outreach efforts to educate and provide support for these communities. Local outreach efforts began more than five years ago with the African-American community in collaboration with Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, said Todd Goddard, director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Learning Institute. Soon after, the association was approached by community members interested in expanding that outreach to Hispanics, and trained volunteers offered an informational class in Spanish during the fall of 2008, he added.

During such classes the association seeks to emphasize the "healthy body, healthy brain," Goddard noted during an interview in January at Monroe Community Hospital, where the association’s Rochester offices are located.

Attendance at the Spanish-language classes increased by more than 60 percent in the first year. For 2010, the association plans to offer a total of 24 Spanish classes, compared to seven last year and one session the first year. The association began working with area churches as well as such agencies as Centro de Oro and Catholic Family Center to spread the word about its offerings. It was through a CFC program that Alzheimer’s Association staff members connected with Leonor Buitrago, who now provides Spanish classes and has created Spanish-language informational videos that appear on the Alzheimer’s association Web site, Goddard added. The association provides the training for volunteers like Buitraga, he said.

Workshops like the one at Our Lady of the Americas, that Buitraga led with fellow Fancha Sturtz, offer valuable information on the signs of Alzheimer’s disease, such as loss of senses in addition to memory loss. The presenters also explain the main factors that pose higher risks for Hispanics to develop dementia, Alzheimer’s or dementia-related diseases. Those factors include:

  • Age: Life expectancy for Hispanics will surpass all other ethnic groups by 2050 and increase to age 87; a person has a 50-percent risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 85.
  • Education: Hispanics have the lowest education levels of any group in the United States with 1 in 10 elderly Hispanics not having received any formal education.
  • Vascular disease: Such vascular diseases as diabetes pose a risk for developing Alzheimer’s and stroke-related dementia, and Hispanics have high rates of diabetes. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2 million of the 30 million Hispanics living in the United States have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

During the Our Lady of the Americas workshop, Buitrago emphasized that maintaining healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels are key to minimizing one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.

The association offers support groups in addition to its classes for the Hispanic community to help families cope with the disease, Buitrago noted.

"Uno tiene que comer saludable," she said. "Todo lo que es bueno para el corazón es bueno para el cerebro."

It also is important to exercise one’s brain through solving puzzles or playing word games, reading and even dancing, Buitraga noted.

Julio Rosa, whose sister has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for more than nine years, said that it is difficult to watch a family member suffer with memory failure and not be able to care for oneself. He recounted how his sister, who lives with her daughter, came to visit one time from Puerto Rico and told him how strange she found it that no one was on the bus with her.

With appropriate care from one’s family, a person can live comfortably for many years, Carmen Rosa said about her sister-in-law’s condition.

"No la tienen encerrada," she added. "La llevan a comer. Eso le ayuda mucho a ella."

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, visit www.alz.org. The Alzheimer’s Association also offers a new support group in Spanish for those caregivers of people suffering from dementia. It takes place the second Monday of each month from 7 to 8 p.m. at St. Michael’s Church, 124 Evergreen St., Rochester. For more information about the support group or classes in Spanish please call Tara Brundage at 585-760-5403.

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