New data shows ethnic disparities in views toward Alzheimer's care

New data from the Alzheimer’s Association shows that more families are struggling with the brain and memory disease.

In Minnesota alone, it’s estimated there are now 99,000 people living with Alzheimer’s. In the next five years, that number is expected to grow 21 percent to 120,000. But, there’s another set of numbers that isn’t often talked about.

There were 170,000 family caregivers in Minnesota last year, and their unpaid care adds up to value of $3.3 billion. But this year, for the first time, the Alzheimer’s Association talked to more ethnic groups, and it’s revealed huge disparities.

New research by the Alzheimer’s Association shows that across ethnic groups, people believe they will be treated differently in Alzheimer’s care because of their race, color, or ethnicity. Many members of racial and ethnic communities feel left out. According to the data, fewer than half of Black Americans and Native Americans believe they can actually find an Alzheimer’s provider who is culturally competent.

"The 2021 Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures Report shows us that there are certain communities who are disproportionately impacted by this disease, and there's so much our organization can do to address those health disparities," said Mollie O’Brien, Chief Strategy Officer with the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota. 

The perceived disparities are deep. Two-thirds of Blacks believe it is harder for them to get excellent Alzheimer’s care. Forty percent of Native Americans feel the same way, followed by Hispanic and Asian Americans.

Ana Diaz, who is from Venezuela and recently lost her mother to Alzheimer’s, said she wasn’t surprised by the latest findings.

"You ask the Latino person, ‘are you a caregiver?’ and I said, ‘no, I'm the daughter,’ or ‘no I'm the wife,’ ‘no I'm the mom,’" she said.

Ka Thao, who provides dementia training to Hmong health care workers, said she wasn’t surprised by the news, either. She said one of the biggest barriers in her community is language.

"They don't know what exactly Alzheimer’s is or dementia is because in the Hmong language there is no direct translation of Alzheimer's or dementia," Thao said.

But it’s more than just language. The research overwhelmingly shows people want to be respected for their ethnicity and culture.

Thao said more education and more awareness would help improve the situation. Alzheimer’s Association volunteers such as Thoa and Ana Diaz are already helping to lead the way by teaching Alzheimer’s forums and workshops offered to the community and health care providers.

Sherry Sanchez Tibbetts, Alzheimer’s Association Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion said that there are several programs already in place.

"We have volunteers who provide training and resources to doctors who are within the Hmong community. We have a partnership with the Wayman Ame church that does outreach to the African American community."

"It's about culture and those differences and helping all of us to understand and navigate those effectively, so that we don't get discriminated against and so everyone gets served," Mollie O’Brien added.