Young Alzheimer's patient aims to raise awareness for more Latinos in research

Michele Castro is one of more than six million Americans living with Alzheimer's. An increasing number of them are Hispanic.
LEHIGH COUNTY, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- To Michele Castro, family is everything.

But her family is making memories that may be a challenge to hold on to because, at only 53 years old, Castro has Alzheimer's disease.

She is now one of the more than six million Americans living with Alzheimer's. An increasing number of them are Hispanic.

"It was very shocking because I thought, 'I'm fine,'" she said.

Castro is in stage one of mild cognitive impairment. She has vowed to fight, as evidenced by the Alzheimer's Association signs in her front yard.

"I just got heavily involved in the Alzheimer's Association," she added.

She immediately got involved after getting her diagnosis, which came after she discovered she had a genetic mutation that makes her more susceptible to early-onset Alzheimer's.

The Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley Chapter wants more Latinos to share their stories and concerns as well.

"Hispanic and Latino individuals are one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer's or dementia than non-Latino whites. But they are less likely to pursue treatment," said Kellie Butsack of the Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley Chapter.

The reluctance to seek treatment, Butsack says, can be due to a lack of resources or, in some cases, discrimination.

"Thirty-six percent of Hispanic Americans report discrimination when seeking healthcare," she added.

That could lead to a lack of knowledge about Alzheimer's, just like Castro's family experienced when her mother started acting differently while only in her 50s as well.

The family eventually learned that Castro's mother had early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The disease took her life as well as Michele's brother's life at a younger age.

Castro also lost two of her aunts to Alzheimer's.

Researchers say pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes make Latinos more at-risk of developing Alzheimer's. It's something they seek to continue studying as they encourage more Hispanics to participate in clinical trials.

"There is definitely a gap," said Butsack. "We certainly need more diverse individuals participating in research."

Castro has registered to participate in clinical trials. She is now dedicated not only to her family but also to the fight against Alzheimer's.

"The difference is that I took it head-on," she said.

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