How Do Ethnic and Cultural Beliefs Affect Alzheimer’s Disease Management and Management?
Cultural beliefs about Alzheimer’s vary widely by race and ethnicity, and can influence treatment and management of the disease. Research shows that more than half of Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans write off memory deficits as natural symptoms of aging rather than recognizing that they could be early signs of dementia. This can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment, and ultimately worsen outcomes in the long term.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, black people are twice as likely as white people to have Alzheimer’s, and more than 6 in 10 members of the Black community know someone with dementia. Research shows that blacks may not trust medical institutions due to historical discrimination and culturally insensitive treatment by healthcare professionals.
Older Hispanics are about 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other dementias than older Whites. Because of the strong family ties within the community, when older people begin to show signs of dementia, it is most often assumed that they are aging and a close relative provides care. Most Hispanics face cultural and language barriers and express a need for physicians who carefully consider and understand their ethnic background and experiences when they need care.
Asian Americans are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than any other racial or ethnic group. In general, there is very little knowledge about Alzheimer’s in most Asian communities, and most Asian languages do not have a word to describe this condition; therefore, translations may describe dementia as “mad” or “state of confusion.” Additionally, respect for the elderly is a deeply rooted custom in most Asian cultures, in which it is a duty and obligation to look after parents or close relatives when they become ill, meaning most people seek professional help first obtained when it is absolutely needed, which in turn worsens the result.
Older people within the Native American community are called “elders” out of respect for their age and wisdom. Research shows that up to 1 in 3 Native American elders will develop Alzheimer’s or some other dementia. Because elders are held in high esteem, they are more likely to receive home care if they suffer from cognitive decline. This leads to delays in early detection and also worsens the result. And like Asian Americans, Native Americans don’t have a specific word to describe dementia. Lack of knowledge about the disease and different cultural concepts surrounding memory loss hamper awareness of symptoms, and the condition is often mistaken for normal aging or transitioning into the next world.
To better serve diverse racial and ethnic communities affected by Alzheimer’s disease and improve access and quality of care, health care providers should plan for culturally competent, person-centered planning, e.g. in communication gaps and hiring medical staff to accommodate the ethnic community to reflect who they serve.