Dementia-Related Physical Disablement in the Mexican-Origin Population

By Sunshine Rote, PhD

Dr Sunshine RoteThe Mexican-origin population is one of the fastest growing segments of the aging population. Due to racial/ethnic inequality in the U.S., the Mexican-origin population faces late life with an elevated risk for dementia. At the same time, demographic and social shifts are making it challenging for families to provide the needed care to older family members living with dementia. Our project "Dementia and Physical Disablement Processes among Aging Latinos”, is funded through the National Institute on Aging (NIA) Small Grant Program (1R03AG059107-01). The purpose of this research, which is being conducted with Jacqueline Angel, PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, is to identify long-term patterns of dementia-related physical disablement for older Mexican Americans and subgroups in need of additional care and services. Our research analyzes over 20 years of data to describe how Mexican Americans age with dementia and what speeds up and slows down risk for unmet dementia care need.

Our studies are highlighting important ways to intervene across the life course. Early in the life course, interventions that increase access to educational and occupational opportunities are especially important for reducing cognitive health disparities that disproportionately impact older Latinos. In mid-life, increasing income benefits and health coverage for working families and decision-making and autonomy in the workplace and home is especially necessary. In late life, Latino communities and families are being confronted with dementia while having the least access to resources used to help manage the illness. Better community-based long-term care services, such as adult day care centers, that complement cultural preferences, stimulate brain activity, and help preserve day-to-day functioning are especially suited for Mexican American older adults living with dementia. In our next steps, we will focus on resiliency factors such as community resources, neighborhood support, and family mobilization that can delay dementia progression and improve caregiver outcomes.

This research has been published in The Gerontologist and Innovation in Aging and been presented at the annual conferences of the American Sociological Association (ASA) and Gerontological Society of America (GSA) as well as the International Conference on Aging in the Americas (ICAA). ICAA focuses on healthful aging for people of Hispanic and Latin American descent and brings together both emerging scholars and leaders in the field to discuss ways to intervene to address issues related to aging populations throughout the Americas.