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Alzheimer's in Latinos is expected to increase by 832%. Can telenovelas change that?

Alzheimer's in Latinos is expected to increase by 832%. Can telenovelas change that?

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LOS ANGELES (Circa) -- "I felt numb. I was shocked. I was scared."

That's how Martha Diaz felt when her mom, Florentina Diaz, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's 14 years ago. It was the first time she had ever heard of the chronic neurodegenerative disease.

"I didn't know what was going to happen. There was a lot of unanswered questions," said the Los Angeles, California, woman.

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Martha Diaz (right) is her mother's primary caregiver.

Diaz's experience is common. Latinos are expected to see a 832% increase in cases of Alzheimer's disease by 2060, according to a 2016 study by the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging. That's double the rate of Caucasians. Doctors don't know why Latinos are more likely to develop Alzheimer's but research shows the Latino community in the United States has higher risk factors for cardiovascular issues, which can lead to cognitive disease. Latinos tend to have poor diets, lower level of education and less access to healthcare than other groups, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

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So Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles found a unique way to try to educate people about the neurological disease. They produced a telenovela.

Known for their drama, the passion and their villains, this telenovela, "Recuerdos Perdidos," or "Lost Memories," has all that and a mission— a lofty one.

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Elba Escobar (left) and Leticia LaBelle (right) play a mom and daughter struggling with an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

"It just follows a family that's dealing with the grandma having some memory problems, the process of getting a diagnosis and how the family copes with that," said Margarita Bermudez, the manager of Latino services at Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles. She got the idea for the telenovela when she was one from AltaMed on HIV.

"If this way, [viewers] are willing to hear us out and maybe pick up the phone, hopefully to call us, but maybe hopefully to call their doctor because they’re worried, you know, anything to help the family, then we'll be happy," said Bermudez.

Latinos tend to have poor diets, lower level of education and less access to healthcare than other groups.
Alzheimer's Association

They are showing bilingual versions of the four-episode (30 minutes total) Spanish telenovela in senior homes, health fairs and schools to educate and help those impacted by the disease, since catching it in the early stages can improve tratment.

“By the time the memory has gotten so bad that they finally accept, ok, maybe I should go see the doctor, they’re already in the middle stages," says Bermudez, who works with a lot of Latino families in the Los Angeles area.

And Diaz, like many who have a family member with Alzheimer's wasn't aware of what her mom was going through.

"I just thought it was old age. Back in the day I used to hear when you get older it's senile. I didn't know that it was this disease until I took her to the doctor because she was refusing to bathe. She didn't want to eat," said Diaz.

For her, the telenovelas are informative, entertaining and a mirror of sorts.

"They're so real. I've experienced some of the scenes with my mom at the very beginning," says Diaz. "One of the scenes that I remember was when the lady was cooking, and she put too much salt in there, and I think she left the spoon in the pot. When my mother still wanted to cook here, she did similar mistakes like that. I started realizing that I can't let her do that. Eventually I would remove the knobs from the stove."

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Martha Diaz says her mom, Florentina Diaz, has forgotten how to things like swallowing her food correctly or bathing.

Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles hopes to make more telenovelas in the future, like one focusing on what it's like to be a caregiver, to help people like Diaz.

"My mother took care of me when I was a child, and now it's my turn to take care of my mother, because she is my little girl," said Diaz.

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