We’re Making Sure Latinos Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

By Elizabeth Carrillo, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health, NCLR

latinosandalzheimers_blog_ENGDecreased judgment, difficulty completing familiar tasks, and unusual changes in behavior or personality are all-too-familiar signs of someone living with Alzheimer’s disease. For National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, we want take a moment help you better understand this terrible ailment.

Alzheimer’s currently affects more than five million Americans. Experts estimate that by 2050 the number of individuals age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s will reach between 11 million and 16 million people—more than double today’s rate. For various reasons, including family history and prevalence of heart disease and diabetes, Hispanics are at least 1.5 times more likely than Whites to suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Hispanics also have a higher life expectancy than other groups which, coupled with greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s, means the disease will continue to increase among Hispanics.

A concern in our community is that Latinos lack an understanding of the disease’s signs and symptoms, often confusing them for normal signs of aging. In fact, Latinos are diagnosed an average of seven years later than Whites, which suggests that the signs are less likely to be recognized. Earlier this week NCLR conducted a text quiz to assess general awareness of the prevalence of Alzheimer’s among Latinos, and the results showed that only 35 percent of people are aware that Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to develop this disease. It’s a signal that there is still much work to be done around raising awareness of the disease among the Latino community.

We must begin by understanding the normal signs of aging versus the signs of Alzheimer’s. While there is still no cure for the disease, early diagnosis can lead to treatment that is more effective at slowing down its progression. Reducing one’s risk for Alzheimer’s—by practicing these five tips for maintaining a healthy brain—is an important step toward fighting the disease.

Increasing awareness of this disease begins with all of us. With support from the MetLife Foundation, NCLR has implemented Mantenga su Mente Activa (Keep Your Brain Active), an Alzheimer’s education program led by promotores de salud (community health workers), for the last five years. The program has been implemented across 20 communities via our Affiliates in the West, Southwest, and Midwest regions of the country. Since 2010, Mantenga su Mente Activa has reached more than 4,500 Latinos through face-to-face programming, mainly via a tool kit used during charlas, or small educational sessions. It has also reached an estimated 16 million Latinos through digital media efforts of NCLR and participating Affiliates. These include tools such as a bilingual awareness video and a Spanish language public service announcement. The program has been effective at increasing awareness across specific areas, but we hope this is only the start of what will become a national effort to educate Latinos about the disease. Join us in our efforts—pass along this information to your friends and family.

Success and Lessons Learned in Reducing Health Disparities

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In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiated Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) to address the Healthy People 2010 goal of eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities in the U.S. Through the REACH program, six minority-serving national organizations (MNOs) were funded to design and implement health equity projects that work toward closing health gaps in racial and ethnic minority groups. The REACH MNOs focused on reducing disparities in health priority areas.

As a REACH MNO, NCLR focused on cervical cancer prevention among Latina women with its Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte (Healthy Woman, Strong Family) project. Latinas have the second-highest rate of cervical cancer out of all racial and ethnic groups. In addition, Latina women have the second-highest death rate due to cervical cancer out of these same groups. Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte offered women one-on-one and small-group education sessions on cervical cancer prevention led by promotores de salud (lay health educators). The program was implemented in community-based organizations that serve primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants. Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte successfully reached thousands of Latinos in Chicago and Washington, DC, through its cervical cancer prevention effects.

Among the successes of this project were the lessons learned, which can help others working with minority and Latino communities. Each MNO wrote success stories to share their experiences and provide guidance to others who are committed to eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health through prevention and management. These accomplishments were compiled in a book to showcase the impact of national organizations working with communities to close health disparities. Although each organization worked with different groups and on different issues, the stories revealed several commonalities, including the importance of relationship building and the support of community leaders in the success of each project.

To learn how NCLR and other national organizations worked to reduce health disparities, take a look at REACH for Health Equity.

Lessons in Healthy Eating

Event comes at conclusion of National Nutrition Month®

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Gabriela Rodriguez, from Comunidades Unidas in West Valley City, Utah, examines the vegetables during NCLR’s nutrition training in San Antonio.

By Kathy Mimberg, Communications Manager, NCLR

Did you know that yellow corn tortillas add fiber to your meal? Or that avocado combined with minced jalapeño and garlic, then thinned with lemon juice and a little canola oil, makes a healthy and delicious salad dressing? Or that eggs are a popular and affordable source of protein?

These were among the lessons discussed by more than a dozen health educators who attended a training session on nutrition held by NCLR in San Antonio as National Nutrition Month® came to a close. The three-day session, hosted at the headquarters of NCLR Affiliate Affiliate Mexican American Unity Council, featured presentations and lively discussions led by Alejandra Gepp, Associate Director of NCLR’s Institute for Hispanic Health, and colleagues Claudia Millar and Elizabeth Carrillo.

Participants came from community organizations in Texas, California, and Utah to better understand how to provide information on nutrition and food assistance resources using the promotores de salud model of lay health educators in Latino neighborhoods. This information is critical to the Latino community, which suffers disproportionately from hunger and obesity. It was sobering for those in attendance to be reminded that 80 percent of Hispanics are overweight and nearly 40 percent are obese, putting a large portion of the community at risk for health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. At the same time, nearly one-fourth of Latinos report not having enough food to eat, another problem that is harmful to health and overall well-being.

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Carlos Londoño, with the Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center in Union City, California, tells the group about his choices for a $5 healthy meal.

The nutrition training directly addressed the very real consequences of rising food costs that Latino families face. It is a challenge to keep a healthy diet when pressed for time and money, which is a common situation for many families today. A trip to the grocery store brought out the participants’ competitive nature as they used shopping lists, calculators, and nutrition labels to see who could plan the healthiest, most nutritious meal for four people without spending more than $5. On the last day, everyone enjoyed a spicy egg dish and fresh produce when they prepared breakfast together using the food they had purchased.

In addition to nutrition and budgeting, the session included details about an important resource that is not being used enough by Latinos to keep from going hungry: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. This program is a major component of federal food assistance efforts for low-income families. Barely more than half (56 percent) of Latinos who are eligible for SNAP benefits actually use this resource, and greater outreach is needed to reduce hunger in the Latino community.

This training session on nutrition is just one of many efforts that NCLR and other organizations are putting forth to bring the Latino community more information about healthy food choices, food assistance resources, affordable shopping strategies, and motivation for improving nutrition and physical activity. The promotores de salud model has been effective in meeting the needs of diverse Latino communities throughout the nation by training lay health educators to hold discussion groups, information sessions, and health- and nutrition-related interventions in their neighborhoods. Given the high levels of overweight and obese members of our community, we need to do all we can to help people eat better, exercise, and improve their health and well-being. So the next time you’re at the grocery store, see if you can meet the $5 dollar healthy meal challenge!

Combating Cervical Cancer in the Latina Community

By Marcela Vargas, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health

Cervical Health Awareness MonthFor me, the word “cancer” is one of the most frightening words in the English language. As someone whose family has been touched several times by this ugly word, I understand the fear and anxiety that even thinking about cancer can bring about. Like anything worrisome, it’s tempting to push that word out of our minds and pretend that cancer doesn’t exist. However, I also understand the danger of ignoring it.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and it’s an issue that hits us close to home at NCLR for several reasons. For starters, Latinas have the highest rate of cervical cancer among racial groups and the second highest rate of death from cervical cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite these high rates of disease and death, Latinas age 18–44 have lower screening rates than Whites and Blacks.

What’s particularly heartbreaking about cervical cancer, however, is that it is not only highly preventable, but also highly treatable. Getting routine Pap tests is a valuable way of catching cervical cancer when treatment is still simple and effective. The CDC reports that 60% of cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested within the last five years.

So why aren’t Latinas getting tested? Research on this topic has found that there are a lot of factors that come into play. Common reasons women don’t get tested include embarrassment, cost, and fear of getting abnormal results. However, there are also many factors that promote cervical cancer screening. For example, low-cost or free services for cervical cancer screenings exist at places such as federally funded health centers or Title X family planning clinics. And, in terms of education, we here at NCLR are doing our part to empower and promote the well-being of the Latina community.

I recently started working at NCLR, focusing on their Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte (Healthy Woman, Strong Family) project. Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte was funded by the CDC in late 2009 to address the need for effective cervical cancer education among Latinas. This community-based project seeks to improve knowledge, change attitudes, and get women to seek cervical cancer screenings, especially among Latinas in Washington, DC and Chicago. I’m happy to report that thanks to partnerships with inspiring organizations and the work of some dedicated promotores de salud (lay health workers), we’ve been able to reach thousands of Latinas with important cervical cancer prevention information.
If I’ve learned anything from my time working here and my family experiences, it’s the power of getting tested. Sure, the thought of getting tested or receiving an abnormal result can be daunting, but the thought of not finding out in time to do something about it is much more frightening.

Keep visiting the NCLR blog for more in this series as we take a closer look at cervical cancer for Cervical Health Awareness Month.

Two White House Events Highlight Our Role in Making Latinos Healthier

By Manuela McDonough, Program Manager, Institute for Hispanic Health, NCLR

For Hispanic Heritage Month this year, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) had an opportunity to participate in two very exciting events at the White House that celebrated the history, culture, and contributions of Latinos in the U.S.

A September 26 briefing focused on the promotores de salud (community health workers) program model.  Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and former NCLR Senior Vice President, opened the session by talking about the importance of addressing Latino health issues in a culturally competent manner.  Other high-level government officials and community-based researchers followed by sharing examples of successful promotores projects.

The highlight of the event, however, was a memo from President Obama honoring National Promotores de Salud and Community Health Workers Day.  In the memo, President Obama said that promotores “play a critical role in closing our country’s healthcare gaps,” and through their tireless efforts promotores are contributing to the well-being and health of this nation.  The president’s recognition of the hard work that these committed professionals and volunteers do give hope to the future of promotores programs.  These vital members of the community have been underappreciated for many years.

For the second event, NCLR had an opportunity work directly with the White House Office of Public Engagement to organize a Latino Health Policy Briefing for our Board members and Affiliates.  On October 11, approximately 30 Affiliate leaders and Board members gathered from throughout the country to participate in this briefing, which emphasized the Affordable Care Act.  The briefing provided an opportunity to elevate the key interests and needs of our Affiliates as we enter a new stage of health care reform implementation.  Our Affiliates and Board members heard from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the top health appointee from the National Economic Council, and the U.S. Chief Technology Officer on improving access via system transformation, achieving health equity, and improving cultural competency in service delivery.

Now that Hispanic Heritage Month is over, we are moving forward with a clearer understanding of the Obama administration’s approach to addressing the growing health needs of the Latino population.  We can be proud of what Latinos have done to make us a healthier country.