FORT WORTH (CBSFDW.COM) – North Texas researchers say Mexican American Hispanics may have an increased risk of developing memory problems that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease — early. In fact, research suggests those early memory problems could surface as much as 10 years sooner than in non-Hispanic whites. And while experts are calling for more extensive research, education and awareness, the statistics are already a heartbreaking reality for the Herrera family.
“At first, we thought maybe because of the medicine, [it was] throwing him off balance, hallucinating, forgetting stuff, “ said Melissa Herrera-Chazaretta, of her father. Sammy Ray Herrera, 59, died of Alzheimer’s disease four years ago.
“It worries me because of my children,” said Herrera-Chazaretta, adding that Alzheimer’s has surfaced on both sides of her family. Her grandfather, father and two uncles were all stricken; some of them in their fifties. Herrera-Chazaretta is 43. “A couple of times I’ve been at Walmart and I come out and say ‘gosh — where did I park the car? Is that me, or is that it?’”
Now, researchers at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth say addressing the role of ethnicity in diseases like Alzheimer’s is critical. “We cannot keep our heads in the sand, that ethnicity doesn’t matter with regards to Alzheimer’s disease, because that’s simply not true,” says associate professor Sid O’Bryant, PhD. “It matters. It’s important and once we understand that it will even help us find treatments and cures and preventions.”
Although Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the US population, experts say they make up less than 1 percent of the participants in major Alzheimer’s studies.
“It doesn’t need to be a hundred people here, a hundred people there,” said O’Bryant. “We need to see 2,000-3,000 Mexican Americans involved in research and following them over time to see what are the factors that increase risk for development of the disease over time.
O’Bryant said researchers already know that obesity, depression and diabetes are all connected to the increased risk—and ultimately it is a cost that will be borne by all. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are some 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s… and by the year 2050, the cost of caring for the nation’s Alzheimer’s population is expected to top $1.2 trillion.
“If we don’t get a handle on the disease, it could bankrupt us. It could bankrupt our healthcare system,” saids O’Bryant. “We do not have the resources to deal with it the way we have been dealing with it.”
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