Many Blacks, Hispanics Misinformed About Alzheimer's

Stigma surrounding the disease can delay diagnosis, a survey finds

WEDNESDAY, March 14, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Black and Hispanic communities harbor many misconceptions about Alzheimer's disease, a new survey shows.

Conducted by Harris Interactive for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, the survey results showed, among other things, that black and Hispanic caregivers were more likely (37 percent and 33 percent) than caregivers of other races (23 percent) to believe that Alzheimer's is a normal part of aging.

"Many of African-Americans and Hispanics thought it was almost normal that people would get Alzheimer's disease as they age," said foundation CEO Eric J. Hall. "This says a lot about the need for education in these communities."

The problem is especially acute in black and Hispanic communities, said Dr. Warachal E. Faison, clinical director of Alzheimer's Research and Clinical Programs at the Medical University of South Carolina. "In minority communities, there is this misconception that Alzheimer's disease is a normal part of aging," she said. "Those subtle symptoms that occur in Alzheimer's disease are often missed in these communities."

According to the survey, 70 percent of black and 67 percent of Hispanic caregivers were more likely to dismiss the symptoms of Alzheimer's as old age, compared with 53 percent of caregivers of other races.

Moreover, 67 percent of black and 63 percent of Hispanic caregivers were more likely to say that they did not know enough about Alzheimer's to recognize the symptoms, compared with 49 percent of caregivers of other races.

However, 33 percent of blacks and 26 percent of Hispanic caregivers were more likely than caregivers of other races (12 percent) to think that they were at a higher risk for Alzheimer's.

The survey also found that it took an average of 31 months after symptoms started before Alzheimer's was diagnosed. In addition, some 33 percent reported that the patient's concern about being stigmatized delayed diagnosis, and 21 percent of the caregivers reported concern about the stigma of dementia that delayed them in seeking a diagnosis.

Among those surveyed, blacks and Hispanics (36 percent and 22 percent, respectively), were more concerned about being stigmatized than other races (18 percent).

"We see, again, stigma around this disease," Hall said. "Stigma promotes a denial of the disease and a delay in diagnosis."

The survey also found that those blacks and Hispanics who are religious (73 percent of responders) were more likely to listen to religious leaders and allow their religion to influence health-care decisions than those weren't as religious (31 percent).

While assisted-living facilities and nursing homes are commonly used by Alzheimer's patients, many blacks and Hispanics don't consider them an option. However, these same groups tend to rely on support groups, the survey found.

Faison thinks the medical community is not diagnosing Alzheimer's early enough in minority communities.

"These findings alert us that patients with Alzheimer's are not being assessed and diagnosed early enough, and they are not aware of the treatment options available to them," Faison said. "One of the reasons for the delay in diagnosis is that these patients were unlikely to be offered a memory screening."

Another expert agreed that more needs to be done to reach minority communities to educate them about Alzheimer's disease.

"Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging," said Laura Kochevar, associate director of Hispanic/Latino Outreach at the Alzheimer's Association. "The need to educate people in minority communities about Alzheimer's is essential."

The Alzheimer's Association currently has outreach programs that target both the black and the Hispanic communities. "These programs are using television, radio and print to educate minority communities about the disease," Kochevar said.

More information

For more information on Alzheimer's, visit the Alzheimer's Association.

SOURCES: Eric J. Hall, founding CEO, Alzheimer's Foundation of America, New York City; Warachal E. Faison, M.D., clinical director, Alzheimer's Research and Clinical Programs, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston; Laura Kochevar, associate director, Hispanic/Latino Outreach, Alzheimer's Association, Chicago; March 14, 2007, ICAN: Investigating Caregivers' Attitudes and Needs
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