Memory loss concerns many as we age. Even young adults who misplace their keys may worry.
The possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia exists for everyone — particularly older individuals. Unfortunately, the Rio Grande Valley has higher levels of disease prevalence.
Dr. Gladys Maestre is a world-renowned neuroscientist and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center for Minority Aging Research, which was established in 2018.
She explained that the early signs of the disease are very personal. They might start with simple forgetfulness, but eventually, family members will have to overcompensate for these lapses in memory.
“It’s the Hispanic population that’s taking the highest toll and there’s no question about it,” she said. “It’s higher at so many levels, with fewer services. When someone has a memory problem and goes to the doctor, they might not speak any Spanish or might not be aware of the cultural clues.”
Maestre asked an important question that can improve the health of those living in the Valley: “How can we enrich our environment?”
Experts say that building brain skills and practicing cognitive engagement is the best way to fend off Alzheimer’s and dementia. This includes both social and physical activities.
“This needs to be an issue that is tackled from many points of view,” Maestre said. “I live in Rancho Viejo and it’s a nice community, but it doesn’t have walkways. If I was in a wheelchair, I wouldn’t be able to get around. It can be unsafe to walk in the street as an elderly person. In poor neighborhoods, there are no walkways. That’s just the basic stuff we should be doing for these communities. Where are the recreation spaces? They are not embedded in the community. You have to get in the car and drive 10 minutes for interaction and cognitive engagement at times.”
She asked the question again.
“How can we enrich our environment? And I’m not talking about money.”
The general health of the community is an investment in which returns don’t necessarily show up in a figurative bank account but rather with a higher quality of life for RGV residents.
Maestre said this is an early part of improving the situation in the Rio Grande Valley.
“We are at the phase of the diagnosis of how big this problem is and where it’s located,” Maestre said, “so we can create targeted strategies that need it the most.”
She says the solution to preparing the RGV for the next decades is a holistic approach to health problems that have lingered in this area — for people young and old.
“There are opportunities to improve but we really need to talk about it,” Mastre said. “We as a community can do something. City officials and city planners — they need to do their part. Even before the pandemic and after the pandemic, urban public spaces are in need. There is a phrase that says ‘public spaces are public health.’”
She believes awareness and public support are a part of the solution. Some groups and organizations already have these concerns high on their priorities, Maestre acknowledged, indicating groups like the Brownsville Senior Coalition, which advocates for healthy and active aging.
“Talking about it is important — the more we talk about it the better,” she said. “We need to create this anxiety somehow, this desire to change this. We need more people like you talking, capturing the voice of people.”