Latino individuals are more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease but less likely to receive the appropriate diagnosis and care. Learn how researchers are working to bridge these disparities in brain health.
Brain diseases affect people of all races and ethnicities, but in the U.S., studies show they disproportionately affect people of color as well as people in lower socioeconomic groups and underserved areas. For example, Black and Latino individuals are consistently underdiagnosed and have less access to early, effective care, resulting in poorer outcomes compared to their white counterparts. These differences in diagnosis and care are referred to as “neurodisparities” and are a major challenge to achieving equity in brain health.
Delayed diagnosis of brain diseases and lack of access to proper care have devastating consequences for individuals and their families. Neurodisparities in diagnosis, research, and care increase inequality and heighten the impact of these diseases on already vulnerable communities.
Racial Disparities in Alzheimer’s Disease
Dr. Irving Vega studies Alzheimer’s disease with a focus on understanding its impact within the Latino community. “Access to health care is a big issue,” says the Michigan State University associate professor. “How you get access to preventing chronic diseases and how effective you are deal[ing] with those chronic diseases will impact your risk later in life.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Latino populations in the U.S. are 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their white counterparts. Additionally, data reported in 2023 showed that 13% of Hispanics aged 65 years and older have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
With over 5 million diagnosed cases of Alzheimer’s in the U.S. alone — and projections that this number will triple by 2050 — the disease presents a significant socioeconomic burden in addition to challenges in treatment and care. It is crucial that research efforts focus on understanding these disparities and connecting researchers with underrepresented communities to ensure equitable access to resources, knowledge, and effective treatments.
Discrimination in Alzheimer’s Care
A study conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association found that 55% of Hispanic American respondents perceived affordability of brain health care as a barrier, while 41% identified the lack of good health care insurance coverage as an obstacle. Additionally, studies showed that racial discrimination acts as a significant barrier to Alzheimer’s and dementia care.
Researchers found that fear of bias or discrimination plays a significant role in maintaining neurodisparities. One study revealed that 18% of Hispanic Americans reported fear of being treated differently based on their race, color, or ethnicity, and that this acted as a barrier to seeking care — significantly higher than the 1% of white Americans who reported the same. The same study showed that 33% of Hispanic Americans reported having experienced discrimination when seeking health care. These prior encounters with bias and discrimination not only increase fear and distrust but also create additional challenges in accessing health care services.
Latino Communities Are Significantly Underrepresented in Research
In addition to the above barriers to seeking care, Hispanic Americans are also significantly underrepresented in Alzheimer’s clinical trials. This lack of diversity in clinical trials further reinforces health disparities because the data produced does not accurately reflect the entire population affected by brain disease. This can result in research that fails to account for a range of important social, cultural, and economic differences. For example, tests used to diagnose cognitive impairment may not be as effective for Spanish-speaking populations if they are developed based mainly on results from native English speakers, as there are nuances that can be lost in translation.
There are a range of reasons for Latino populations being underrepresented in current research, many of which are due to socioeconomic factors. For example, a study conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association found that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are more concerned than white Americans about participation in research disrupting work and family responsibilities and availability of transportation and childcare.
In the same report, 36% of Hispanic Americans surveyed said they believe that medical research is biased against people of color, which limits their willingness to participate in studies. Another study that looked at the participation of diverse populations in Alzheimer’s research found that commonly used exclusion criteria in Alzheimer’s clinical trials disproportionately affect African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos, limiting their enrollment in such research.
This lack of trust and participation highlights the urgent need to address diversity and inclusion in research by engaging with underrepresented communities and increasing transparency.
Addressing Neurodisparities in Brain Disease Research and Care
To bridge this gap between Alzheimer’s researchers and Latino communities, Dr. Vega is forming partnerships with community organizations in Michigan, aiming to bring Latino individuals and stakeholders into the Alzheimer’s research fold. Dr. Vega also focuses on raising awareness and dispelling myths about the disease, such as the belief that Alzheimer’s is solely a result of old age. He emphasizes that this belief leads to delayed treatment for people with the disease, preventing them from getting critical early care.
Neurodisparities also extend beyond Alzheimer’s disease. The American Brain Foundation recognizes the need to prioritize equity in brain health and research across the full spectrum of brain diseases and disorders. We award an annual Next Generation Research Grant in neurodisparities to a research project designed to improve our understanding and treatment of health disparities. Our 2023 grant was awarded to Dominique Popescu, PhD, who is studying how social and psychological factors contribute to disparities in stroke severity and recovery.
Promoting diversity and inclusion in brain disease research and health care is essential to increasing participation in studies and expanding our understanding of neurodisparities. By working collaboratively, raising awareness, advocating for equitable policies, and investing in resources, we can strive for a future where everyone, regardless of their background, receives equal access to effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and support for brain diseases.
The American Brain Foundation was founded to bring researchers and donors together in the fight against brain disease. Learn more about brain disease or make a gift to support groundbreaking brain disease research.