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Alzheimer’s Disease Q&A: Patient Race and Culture May Delay Diagnosis and Treatment | Entertainment/Life


How do racial and cultural beliefs affect the care and management of Alzheimer’s disease?

Cultural beliefs about Alzheimer’s disease vary widely between races and ethnicities and could affect the care and management of the disease. Research shows that more than half of Black Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans are more likely to see memory deficits as natural symptoms of aging rather than recognizing that they could be signs early stages of dementia. This can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment, and ultimately worsen the long-term outcome.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, black people are twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s disease as white people, and more than 6 in 10 members of the black community know someone with dementia. Research indicates that black people may not trust medical institutions due to historical discrimination and culturally insensitive treatment by medical professionals.

Older Hispanic Americans are about 1.5 times more likely than older whites to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Due to strong family ties within the community, when older people begin to show signs of dementia, it is commonly thought that they are getting older and a close relative is taking over. Most Hispanics face cultural and language barriers, expressing that they need doctors to carefully consider and understand their ethnicity and experiences when seeking care.

Asian Americans are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than any other racial or ethnic group. Generally, there is very little knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease in most Asian communities and most Asian languages ​​do not have a word to describe this disease; thus, translations may describe dementia as “crazy” or “confusional state”. Moreover, in most Asian cultures, respect for the elderly is a deeply rooted custom in which it is the duty and the obligation to take care of one’s parents or relatives if they fall ill, which means that most people won’t get professional help until absolutely necessary, which again makes the outcome worse.

Older people within the Native American community are called “Elders” out of respect for their age and wisdom. Research shows that up to 1 in 3 Native American seniors will develop Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. Because seniors are held in high esteem, they are more likely to seek home care if they experience cognitive decline. This creates delays in early detection and also worsens the outcome. And, like Asian Americans, Native Americans don’t have a specific word to describe dementia. Lack of knowledge about the disease and various cultural ideas surrounding memory loss hamper awareness of symptoms and the condition is often mistaken for normal aging or as a transition to the afterlife.

To better serve the different racial and ethnic communities affected by Alzheimer’s disease and to improve access and quality of care, health care providers should plan for culturally competent person-centered planning, such as educating the family about illness, work with a community member to fill communication gaps, and hire medical staff to reflect the ethnic community they serve.

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