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Hispanic elders in Waterbury learn how to cope with Alzheimer's disease

Sindymarie Sanchez, a case manager with Hispanic Coalition of Waterbury, sits with Aurea Maldonado (left) and Hilda Batista (right) during an presentation in Spanish by Maria Canales on recognizing and managing Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Sindymarie Sanchez, a case manager with Hispanic Coalition of Waterbury, sits with Aurea Maldonado (left) and Hilda Batista (right) during an presentation in Spanish by Maria Canales on recognizing and managing Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Leer en Español

A group of Hispanic elders recently gathered at the Hispanic Coalition of Greater Waterbury to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease.

They listened to Maria Canales as she spoke in Spanish. Canales, community educator at the Alzheimer’s Association, said the disease is sad and affects not only the patient but the whole family.

“Families will keep the secret, they won’t tell their neighbors, they sometimes won't even tell their own family members that it exists,” Canales said. “They can actually have a support group to actually combat all this stigmatism, and you know, all the issues that come along with it.”

The group of elders paid close attention to Canales as she discussed the warning signals of the disease. They discussed the importance of getting educated and taking preventive measures to help those suffering from the disease.

Maria Canales speaks in Spanish with some of the estimated thirty attendees to her talk at the Hispanic Coalition of Waterbury on recognizing and managing Alzheimer’s symptoms, August 31, 2023. (Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public)
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Maria Canales speaks in Spanish with some of the estimated thirty attendees to her talk at the Hispanic Coalition of Waterbury on recognizing and managing Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Hispanics are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia. A study indicates that 14% of Hispanics and 19% of Blacks aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s, compared with 10% of older whites. The Alzheimer’s Association cites structural racism, as well as socioeconomic and environmental factors, such as where people live and their exposure to harmful pollutants.

Sol Sanchez, a 74-year-old Waterbury resident, said her mother and other family members had gone through the disease. Sanchez was eager to learn about the early signs of Alzheimer's to prevent it or get medical advice if she is ever diagnosed.

"My mother got Alzheimer's in her 80s and in my husband's family, his mother, her three sisters and one of her nephews got it too,” Sanchez said. “I feel very proud to have come to this class because I know that anyone can get this disease, even myself, but if I know the symptoms I can learn to manage it.”

During a presentation by Maria Canales of the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter at the Hispanic Coalition of Waterbury, Luz Eneida Perez reads a pamphlet in Spanish. Recent data point to the Hispanic/Latino population as being one and half times more likely to develop the disease as whites.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
During a presentation by Maria Canales of the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter at the Hispanic Coalition of Waterbury, Luz Eneida Perez reads a pamphlet in Spanish. Recent data point to the Hispanic/Latino population as being one and half times more likely to develop the disease as whites.

Juan Perez, one of the attendees, shared his story of being diagnosed with the disease three years ago and how it has slowly progressed.

“I feel bad because I am alone and I live alone,” Perez said. “The doctor gives me pills to deal with this. But in the class I learned that better drugs are coming out.”

This year, the FDA approved a medication for treating Alzheimer's, Leqembi, to treat patients with early signs of the disease.

Kristen Cusato, spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association, shared how, in the last legislative session, Connecticut lawmakers had heard testimonies from people as they made changes to help families suffering from the disease.

“So there were two different things that passed that were very helpful to us,” Cusato said. “One was the formation and creation of a position called the dementia care coordinator to gather all this information from different agencies. There was another that involves more education for direct care home companions that does not involve medication.”

After the informational event, the Hispanic elders said they felt more prepared and empowered to help their families and communities.

Canales said it's important that families find the right resources to learn how to deal with Alzheimer’s.

“As a culture, we are not used to putting our old in a senior center,” Canales said. “First find resources. You need support. You cannot do it alone.”

Maria Canales speaks in Spanish with some of the estimated thirty attendees to her talk at the Hispanic Coalition of Waterbury on recognizing and managing Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Maria Canales speaks in Spanish with some of the estimated thirty attendees to her talk at the Hispanic Coalition of Waterbury on recognizing and managing Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

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