4.30.2007

Latinos at greater risk of Alzheimer's

Hispanics at greater risk of Alzheimer's
High rate of Type 2 diabetes makes them much more susceptible

April 30, 2007
BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA Staff Reporter ecepeda@suntimes.com
After Fatima Salmeron found herself wandering the street, disoriented and unable to find her way home, it didn't take her long to connect the dots between her late father Nicolas' Alzheimer's disease and her own frightening experience.

"I was two blocks away and had no idea where my house was," said Salmeron, of Humboldt Park. "I got so scared, I just sat down in the middle of the street and cried."

After the incident, she learned her recently diagnosed Type 2 diabetes -- in addition to the Alzheimer's her father had lived with -- placed her in a double risk category. There is a high rate of Type 2 diabetes among Hispanics. Salmeron, 45, is just one of the millions of Hispanics who have it and are therefore more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

According to a study in this month's Archives of Neurology, of a sample of 918 patients, the risk of mild cognitive impairment -- the transitional state before Alzheimer's -- was higher for patients with Type 2 diabetes.

The risk for Hispanic patients is almost three times as high as for non-Hispanic whites -- 11 percent vs. 4.6 percent, the study said. It's made worse by the Hispanic cultural characteristics of caring for the elderly at home and reluctance to seek health care, combined with a lack of Alzheimer's awareness.

"We didn't know my father had Alzheimer's until he was hospitalized right before his death. We just couldn't get him to go to the doctor," said Salmeron, recalling many times he left food cooking on the stove, wandered off and was missing for days.

Salmeron is being cared for by doctors and gets in-home checkups by a trained "health promoter" from the Greater Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association's Hispanic Outreach team.

For information, call (800) 272-3900 or visit www.alz .org/illinois.