Research suggests that Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to get Alzheimer's disease than their white counterparts. African-Americans are twice as likely. The jury is still out on why exactly this is the case.
You might think the higher incidence would result in more resources, attention, even research. But, that isn’t true, according to Dr. Angela Allen. She's an African-American clinical research program director at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. Allen says there's often a delayed diagnosis or inadequate treatment for dementia among African-Americans and Latinos.
"Often times our white counterparts will get what we call prescreens, they’ll take medication and take all the things that are recommended. Well, unfortunately, in the minority population we get it when it's an issue or a concern," said Allen.
She says many African-Americans with dementia are not screened for the disease and don't take medications that can slow the spread. One reason, she says, is a deep distrust of medical professionals among some in the black community.
"Particularly with the African-American community we still have that Tuskegee study in our head. It’s a long history in everyone's head. It's a distrust," continued Allen.
Dr. David Marquez, a Mexican American researcher on the Latino Core study for the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, says distrust is also a barrier for researchers who want to include more Latinos in case studies and research.
"People have felt that they are guinea pigs experimented with and felt they don’t have voice," stated Marquez.
But advocates right here in Milwaukee are working to better serve the Latino and African-American communities.
One place is the Latino Geriatric Center, which is a part of United Community Center on the city's south side. It's the only memory diagnostic clinic in Wisconsin that specifically serves the Latino population. The services and support can all be done in the Spanish language.
Al Castro, director of Health Research Programs at UCC, says the center was opened back in 2007 to specifically address a disparity he saw in his community.
"There’s many memory clinics around the country and Wisconsin. Latinos were being left out of that kind of access and health care by not being properly diagnosed," said Castro. "We created a clinic right in the heart of the Latino community."
More recently, Castro is behind a new initiative: to create a mobile memory clinic. The idea is for the UCC to be able to conduct memory screenings right in peoples homes, churches or community centers. Castro hopes the new mobile clinic will be an even more effective way to do early screenings.
While the UCC is working to address the specific needs in the Latino community, on the north side, Milwaukee Health Services has created a memory diagnostic clinic in an effort to better serve the African-American community. The clinic gives free dementia screenings and provides caregiver support.
Advocates say such programs are essential. State officials estimate there are more than 100,000 people in Wisconsin living with dementia today. The number is expected to grow.