While November was National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month, the issue remains front-and-center for many Latinos and family members. There is a high chance that most of us are aware of someone whose life has been affected by Alzheimer’s disease, whether it is family or a friend.

In 1983, former President Ronald Reagan designated this disease as a health priority, recognizing the need for increased awareness. According to Senior Living, there were less than two million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease at that time. That number has increased to almost 6 million nationally. And approximately 13% of Latinos who are 65 or older have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Linda Loera is a community outreach specialist with the Alzheimer’s Association in Southern California. In addition to educating the community about Alzheimer’s disease and participating in community events to bring awareness, she provides information and support to families and caregivers. 

Before joining the Alzheimer’s Association, Loera worked for the HICAP (Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program) for 11 years, counseling and advocating on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries. She is bilingual in Spanish and English and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Latin American Studies and a second master’s degree in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Understanding Alzheimer’s disease during November and other times of the year can help those with Alzheimer’s disease who still haven’t been diagnosed. Whether you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association is your trusted resource for reliable information, education, referrals, and support system. For free bilingual consultation in English and Spanish, call the Alzheimer’s Association hotline (800) 272-3900.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and ways you can support families and people living with the disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.


Photo courtesy Linda Loera

LINDA LOERA, PROGRAM AND EDUCATION MANAGER, LOS ANGELES COUNTY, SHE/HER/ELLA, MEXICAN-AMERICAN

WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?

Alzheimer’s disease is a cognitive disease or a brain disease. It’s a disease that is progressive and that not only affects your memory but also affects many other aspects of a person’s life, like affecting their behavior, their personality. Overall, it’s that decline in cognition, a decline in your brain and its ability to function.

IS THERE A CURE OR TREATMENT FOR ALZHEIMER’S?

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. I’m sure there are people working very hard to find a cure, but unfortunately, there is no cure. There is medication that has been approved, but most of them don’t impact the actual disease. They are used to help with the symptoms associated with the disease. Some of those symptoms are anxiety, confusion, sometimes depression, and short term memory loss in the beginning of the disease. The medication will only help with those brain cells that are still active. For example, if a person takes 15 seconds to respond now they will only respond in 10 seconds. Again, it won’t make those symptoms go away, but a lot of family members have stated that it has helped with the changes but other people say they don’t see any changes. Sometimes you can’t even tell if the medication is making a difference, but the medication affects everyone differently.

HOW CAN ALZHEIMER’S AFFECT A LOVED ONE?

Well, with this disease it’s going to impact not just the individual who has been diagnosed but the whole entire family or the community around them. That means anybody who has a relationship with that person will be impacted because that person with the diagnosis will forget things. The disease progresses to the point that at the late stages that person needs care 24/7. So whether it’s the spouse, the partner, children, brothers or sisters, whoever is around them or living with them, will have a caring role for them and will be impacted. 

For example, who’s going to remind that person who has been diagnosed to take their medication. At the early stages these are the simple things that they need to be supervised with. Making sure they eat and not forget their doctor’s appointment. Or reminding them to do everyday things, like grooming and exercising. As the disease progresses who’s going to help cook for them or take them to the doctor. At the later stages the person diagnosed can no longer walk and they need someone to look after them to change them, keep them out of bed, shower them, so it’s very impactful like other diseases. With this disease it’s really important that it’s a team effort in taking care of that person. So part of the awareness is knowing what the disease does to the person and how families need to prepare for that diagnosis and for that care.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO RAISE AWARENESS ABOUT ALZHEIMER’S IN THE LATINO COMMUNITY?

Latinos are one and a half times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than White people. We don’t entirely know why. Researchers are still looking into that. But we do see that Latinos are affected more by Alzheimer’s than the White community. We have more of an impact of developing the disease and also, because of many other theories in our healthcare system say that we do. So, it’s really important to raise awareness in any community. Some people say it’s normal, but just because someone says it’s a normal process of aging it might not be normal. It’s really important to have that awareness so that family members, when they see some of these changes in a person, can get diagnosed and taken care of by a doctor. Most people get diagnosed after the age of 65. 

HOW CAN THE LATINO COMMUNITY RAISE AWARENESS FOR ALZHEIMER’S?

I still believe that there’s a stigma with the disease, and a lot of times, even if they are aware of it, they don’t really want to talk about it. It is a very difficult diagnosis, especially because there is no cure for it. People try to just ignore it and there’s a lot of denials. Again, a lot of the time in the Latino community, they use the excuse, “just because they are old,” but the challenges that come as the disease progresses are not the normal everyday changes that older people have. So they really have to prepare for that. We encourage and support families in educating themselves about what the disease looks like and what they need to do to care for the person with the disease. Even the person with the diagnosis needs to prepare for what they are going to tell their family and the things that they might need help with. We always encourage families to talk about the disease even though there could be some denial.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO SUPPORT AN ALZHEIMER’S CAREGIVER?

A lot of it comes from education and just understanding the disease makes a big difference. I know the Latino community support groups are not very well understood. A lot of families are like “why do I need to go talk in front of a group that I don’t know or talk about my personal issues.” Sometimes it’s just a little hard to understand the process of the support groups but they indeed help understand what the person is going through and also help the person who is the caregiver. We have a Spanish support group at our facility and we do this meeting twice a month. You can call our hotline and get connected to any of our services and programs. Our hotline is open 24/7 and we never close.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO FAMILIES THAT HAVE A FAMILY MEMBER WITH ALZHEIMER’S? 

I would say to reach out to us. A lot of the time family members don’t trust us because they don’t know who we are. This disease is a very difficult one and it’s not your typical chronic disease, which can still be challenging whether it’s a heart condition or any other disease in the Latino community. Most of the time you can treat other diseases with medication or surgery but with this disease there is no cure and is fatal and you’re not going to get better. If you know what to expect and plan ahead and work with it, it will help your loved one and the situation and the experience can be more calm and less stressful. And of course you can only do this if they get the diagnosis or the medication that they need. My advice is to seek out these services and reach out for help because the disease is not not going to go away but all you can do is manage it, educate, and know what to expect with the disease.

Amairani Hernandez

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a freelancer and focuses on stories about Latinos,...