June 11 2004

Latinos Face Boom in Senior Population

By Rep. Robert Menendez

Perspective

The life expectancy of Hispanics will increase to 87 by 2050, surpassing all other ethnic groups in the United States. Today, Hispanics make up five percent of the total senior population, which will rise to 16 percent by the middle of the century.

Last week, the Alzheimer’s Association released a report that focuses on the impact of Alzheimer’s on Hispanics. The report predicts that because Hispanics are the fastest growing population in the country and have the greatest life expectancy of any ethnic group, the community will experience a six-fold increase in the disease by 2050.

In numbers, this means that 1.3 million Hispanics will have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050, compared to fewer than 200,000 currently living with the disease.

As a son caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s, I understand firsthand the strain it can be on families because it not only affects families’ lives, jobs, and finances, but also their mental and physical well-being.

Hispanic communities have a deep-rooted and strong sense of family responsibility, and it is our families that tend to care for relatives with Alzheimer’s for longer periods of time. Creating culturally and linguistically appropriate health and community services is important in helping families cope with this disease.

Congress must give Alzheimer’s disease its full attention and develop a national strategy to fight it. Unless we invest in Alzheimer research now, the disease will become a bigger and bigger drain on a health care system that is already at the breaking point.

The CHC has long been on the forefront of healthcare issues and has fought continuously for funding that would allow for more research, early testing, and community health centers. The correlation between diabetes, a debilitating disease for a growing number Hispanics, and Alzheimer’s is yet another reason that we must reinvest in our com-munity’s healthcare. Growing evidence indicates that diabetes may also be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and stroke-related dementia. Hispanics are currently inflicted with diabetes at a rate 64 percent higher than non-Hispanic white Americans.

The Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) are committed to addressing the needs of the Hispanic community and recognize the unique needs of Hispanic seniors. Through the CHC Health Task Force, of which I am a member, the CHC works together to ensure that important health issues, such as Alzheimer’s, receive the attention they deserve.

The CHC has adopted four key priorities in addressing the needs of Hispanic seniors: increasing services for low-income seniors in Latino communities; encouraging research on Latino utilization of and satisfaction with nursing homes and home health services; supporting initiatives to improve culturally competent home health services; and encouraging research into diseases affecting Hispanic seniors, such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Americans are living longer today than ever before, so it’s important that we provide seniors with the information and resources they need to truly enjoy their golden years. The Alzheimer’s report reminds us of the many challenges ahead, and the need for us as a Congress to make wise investments in the future on behalf of the American People — and Alzheimer’s research is one of those important and critical investments we must make now, so that future generations of Americans will have the medical resources and knowledge to cope with the challenge of caring for a parent, family member, or friend living with this disease.

Congressman Bob Menendez of New Jersey is the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. As Chairman, he is the highest ranking Hispanic in the history of the Congress.

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