December 4, 2022

Alicia Arbaje, MD, PhD, MPH, affiliate professor at Johns Hopkins Faculty of Drugs, talks to WebMD in regards to the well being challenges of elders in America’s many Hispanic communities. 

This interview was edited for size and readability. 

WebMD: What’s one of the simplest ways to seek advice from folks with Hispanic roots or identities in a medical context? 

Arbaje: This can be a nice query. The phrases are vital and sadly lots of them have been put upon us by different cultures and due to a historical past of colonization. For instance, the “Latinx” time period just isn’t nicely embraced by the Latino inhabitants – particularly older adults. It’s additionally not broadly used within the scientific literature or in geriatrics, although this will change over time. 

We see “Latino,” “Latina,” and “Hispanic,” however there’s no nice time period. This could trigger an issue with how knowledge is collected for this inhabitants. One of the best factor to do when working with folks of Latin descent is to satisfy folks the place they’re and ask them to self-identify. Most individuals are likely to determine themselves by nationality (i.e., Puerto Rican, Dominican, and many others.). Once you put everybody collectively in a single bucket it may possibly generally low cost the wealthy variety and even totally different well being backgrounds.

[For this Q&A with Dr. Arbaje, WebMD will use the terms Hispanic and Latino to refer to anyone who may have roots in Latin America and parts of the Caribbean.]

WebMD: What are the most important well being challenges for at the moment’s growing old Hispanic inhabitants?

Arbaje: Typically, they’re the identical points that occur in most growing old populations: Coronary heart illness, diabetes, most cancers, respiratory illness. However some issues are extra widespread. Dementia appears to disproportionately have an effect on Latinos in comparison with different teams. And greater than 50% of individuals of Hispanic descent can have sort 2 diabetes of their lifetime in comparison with lower than 40% for the remainder of the inhabitants.

As well as, Hispanic People are 1.2 instances extra prone to be overweight than non-Hispanic whites and 1.5 instances extra prone to have kidney illness in comparison with different People. As well as, whereas Hispanics have a decrease fee of a number of the widespread cancers within the U.S., they’ve the next fee of most cancers brought on by infectious brokers equivalent to liver, abdomen, and cervical most cancers.

The upper incidence of those ailments has loads to do with historic marginalization versus there being one thing inherent in Latinos that makes them extra prone to have these situations.


WebMD: Do folks within the Latino neighborhood obtain a distinct customary of medical care due to their race or cultural background?

Arbaje: In some circumstances, sure. I see this play out in quite a lot of methods. The most important problem is a scarcity of entry to care, which might result in a delayed prognosis. Dementia, for instance, tends to be recognized later in Latinos. 

An absence of belief within the medical neighborhood may also delay a prognosis. This distrust is typically based mostly in disturbing historical past. To take one instance, U.S. scientists examined the contraception capsule in Puerto Rican girls with out their full consent.   

Typically there are language obstacles between medical doctors and growing old sufferers and that may add to the issue. Sadly, the truth is that some within the medical neighborhood nonetheless look down on folks of Latin descent who might not converse English as a primary language.

WebMD: Does analysis knowledge give attention to distinctive points and well being outcomes for Hispanics? 

Arbaje: Folks don’t usually take into consideration how knowledge could be skewed – particularly the information at the moment out there to us. Now we have a protracted technique to go as research and a few medical knowledge don’t give sufficient element and should not mirror the true make-up of the U.S. inhabitants.

One drawback is a attainable undercounting of Latinos. Nationally, many of the knowledge in regards to the older inhabitants comes from Medicare. However Medicare knowledge isn’t nice for figuring out ethnicity, particularly folks of a number of ethnicities. Consequently, many Hispanics are categorized as “different” or “unknown.” 

Additionally, in most medical report software program packages folks aren’t allowed to self-identify. And if they’re, out there choices will not be correct. 

And lots of medical data techniques might not account for the a number of final names widespread in lots of Latino cultures. Consequently, some folks might mistakenly have two extra medical data, which might imply unsafe or incorrect medical care. 

WebMD: What can somebody on this inhabitants do to enhance a few of these well being outcomes?

Arbaje: We all know diet is crucial to well being. I encourage Latinos to think about their nation of origin, which doubtless follows a plant-based eating regimen. For those who don’t have easy accessibility to contemporary vegetables and fruit, ask for assist by friends, well being care professionals, and even the religion neighborhood. 


In fact, train is vital for anybody as nicely, particularly for individuals who are getting older. 

I additionally say: Demand that the well being care you obtain is aligned together with your targets. This can be uncomfortable for the older generations as they aren’t taught to query their medical doctors, however youthful caregivers might help. 

For instance, for those who’re a caregiver, you can say “My grandfather desires to have the ability to get to church on the weekends. What can we do to get that?” Or “My grandmother desires to spend extra time together with her grandchildren. Would these medicines permit her to do that?” Current your targets clearly and instantly.

WebMD: What in regards to the emotional well being impacts confronted by this neighborhood?

Arbaje: Despair is an issue in older folks, however could be arduous to diagnose within the Latino neighborhood as a result of there’s a stigma usually round speaking about issues like despair that will suggest weak point. Or I see sufferers who assume a low temper is a “regular” a part of growing old and gained’t speak to their medical doctors about it. 

Social isolation is an issue. It could actually worsen despair and hasten dementia. That’s why staying socially linked is so vital as folks grow old. In lots of circumstances, as a result of immigration and migration, household assist techniques in Latino communities could also be far-off and so much less in a position to assist. Many youthful folks, for instance, have left Puerto Rico for jobs on the U.S. mainland, leaving lots of the growing old inhabitants behind with much less assist. 

That’s why discovering, constructing, and nurturing a assist system is so vital.

WebMD: Did we study something in regards to the well being of Latinos through the pandemic?

Arbaje: COVID affected Latinos greater than the overall inhabitants – largely youthful folks within the meat packing and residential well being care industries. And there are some long-term results which are but to be seen as these of us age. I believe that is going to be an rising place to look at. In some methods, COVID can speed up some underlying diagnoses. Now we have but to see what occurs there.


WebMD: How can well being care suppliers higher serve the Latino neighborhood?

Arbaje: Rent them! Make it a precedence to enhance knowledge in regards to the Latino neighborhood. Strategy care with cultural humility. Have interaction in shared decision-making and assembly folks the place they’re as a substitute of speaking in a manner that locations the complete blame for well being challenges on the affected person. 

Sure, particular person duty is vital, however good well being care is a partnership.

WebMD: What’s your message to family members and caregivers of these within the growing old neighborhood?

Arbaje: To the caregivers, I say, “You aren’t alone.” There are individuals who might help make your beloved’s life match what they need it to be as finest as attainable. Geriatricians particularly see it as a mission to assist older adults have a greater high quality of life. However it’s also possible to get assist from different well being care and psychological well being professionals and out of your religion neighborhood and friends. 

Lastly, know you might be doing noble work. Treasure this time. It’s a distinct honor and privilege to usher somebody by the later stations of their life. It may be difficult, nevertheless it’s vital and sacred work that has actual worth.

WebMD Function



Alicia I. Arbaje, MD, MPH, PhD, affiliate professor of medication, Johns Hopkins College Faculty of Drugs; director of transitional care analysis, Heart for Transformative Geriatrics Analysis, Division of Geriatric Drugs and Gerontology.

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