Dementia: A Silent Pain in the Latino Community

Our blood is Mexican but in our hearts, we are Washingtonians. My husband, Manuel, and I migrated to the Yakima Valley in 1994. Our four kids were born here. We love the forest of Washington. Manuel and I are very involved in diabetes education and prevention. Manuel is also very active in the chronic disease self-management program while facilitating the Spanish Alzheimer's Association support group.

A couple of years ago, after an open-heart surgery, my mom started showing signs of dementia during her recovery time. None of my nine siblings were even talking about her forgetful pattern. Not because they were ignoring the signs, but because they didn't know anything about dementia.

One day, after two of my brothers came to visit my mom, she commented that she wanted to see my brother who had just left. "I haven't seen him in several days," she said.

After her surgery, my mom had to stay in the hospital for six weeks. When people asked, "How long were you in the hospital?" She would respond, "Only one week." She doesn't remember the chaos that we lived in the hospital.

As you can see by our family's example, Alzheimer's does not respect ethnicities.

According to the National Hispanic Council on Aging, Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than non-Hispanic whites.

Dementia is a silent pain in the Latino community.

According to a study from the National Hispanic Council on Aging, there is a lack of factual knowledge about Alzheimer's, its causes, and treatment options in the Hispanic community.

El Portal del Noroeste es un programa gratuito creado por la Asociación de Alzheimer para informar y educar a la comunidad latina del condado de King sobre los recursos y servicios para personas que padecen pérdida de la memoria. Para mayor información visite el sitio de web: alzwa.org.

The lack of language skills, medical coverage, and access to medical care can make Alzheimer's or other types of dementias more difficult to manage for the Hispanic community.

The Alzheimer's Association knows this and has begun an educational movement in Yakima. However, education is not just a one-time event. We need to keep the momentum moving forward to increase knowledge among the different ethnicities, and to improve the communication between patients and providers.

A few years ago, not everybody knew about diabetes. Today one out of three adults in this country has pre-diabetes, but awareness and education are giving us the skills and tools to fight against diabetes.

I have been an educator in this country for the last 20 years and, honestly, I rarely hear the word Alzheimer's within my group of colleagues and lifestyle coaches.

What are we waiting for? A multicultural Alzheimer's awareness campaign is urgent. And we need to use all the marketing vehicles: radio, TV, newspaper, Twitter, Facebook and others.

Everybody has to know what Alzheimer's is. People need to know that Alzheimer's, cardiovascular problems, and diabetes are very good friends and love to be together.

With each person who hears this, I hope for better services and a better future for people with Alzheimer's.

If you or someone you love has dementia or Alzheimer's, call the Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900 or visit alzwa.org.


This article was transcribed from a speech given by Lily Gonzalez at the Alzheimer's Association’s Reason to Hope event. Lily—shown in the photo at top—has a passion for health education and promotion. She is the lifestyle coach and National Diabetes Prevention Program master trainer at Yakima Memorial Hospital and also a Chronic Disease Self-Management Program master trainer. Lily is currently working on her Master of Public Health degree through Concordia University/Nebraska.