Older blacks in America are about two times more likely than older whites to have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia (see sidebar). Older Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely than older whites to have these conditions (10). High blood pressure and diabetes, both risk factors for Alzheimer’s and dementia, are more common in older blacks and Hispanics than in older whites and probably account for some of the differences.
While scientific advances have increased longevity and improved quality of life for Americans, racial and ethnic minorities have not experienced these gains equally. Advancing scientific knowledge and technology can improve patient-centered research in the areas of prevention, screening, diagnostics and treatment, and it can strengthen existing information systems to improve the quality of health, public health and biomedical research. It makes a big difference when breast cancer is diagnosed early; when a patient having a heart attack is given the correct treatment quickly; when medications are correctly administered; and when doctors listen to their patients and their families, show them respect and answer their questions in a culturally and linguistically skilled manner.
To better reach out to all the different ethnic groups, it pays for the medical community to develop cultural and linguistic skills. Strategies include expanding the use of interpreters, improving the quality of patient-provider interactions in clinical settings, improving cultural-competence education and training for health-care professionals, and increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the health-care work force.
It is necessary to educate physicians about pervasive racial and ethnic health disparities and to assist them in developing strategies to deliver quality care to underserved populations. In addition, we must foster the training of scientists with the best biochemical and molecular technologies to investigate the causes of many the diseases prevalent among minorities.
- 1. Mollon, L. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 23, 1 – 6 (2012).
- 2. Ulmer, C., et al. National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Reports, Institute of Medicine: 1 – 159 (2010).
- 3.Collins, S.D., et al. Circulation 122, 1085 – 1090 (2010).
- 4. Lorenzo, C., Hazuda, H. and Haffner. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 97, 793 – 799 (2012).
- 5. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Diabetes Statistics (2011).
- 6. Trends in Nutrient Intakes and Chronic Health Conditions Among Mexican-American Adults, a 25-year Profile: United States 1982 – 2006. National Health Statistics Reports #50 (2012).
- 7. Flack., J.M., et al. Cardiovascular Disease, Chronic Kidney Disease, and Ethnic Minorities: A Triple Threat. National Kidney Foundation (2010).
- 8. Breast Cancer Rates by Race and Ethnicity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010).
- 9. Whitman, S. et al. Cancer Epidemiology 36, 147 – 151 (2012).
- 10. Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures 2010, Alzheimer’s Association.
Frank Talamantes (email@example.com) is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz.