Newsday (November 4, 2009): Culture, Language Pose Challenge in Dealing with Disease

Publication Date: 
Wed, 11/04/2009

When Charles Tang's wife Amy 76, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's several years ago, he started looking for a support group for himself. He was shocked to find none were available in his native Chinese language.

"Every time I was attending the education meetings at the Alzheimer's Association NYC chapter, I found that I was the only one who was Chinese or even Asian," said Tang, 84, of Manhattan.

It wasn't until several months ago that Fai Lin Lau, working with the NYC chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, was able to drum up enough interest to start a support group for Asian caregivers. Lau said her biggest obstacle has been trying to educate those in the Asian community that Alzheimer's is a disease of the brain.

"The first misconception is they think this is a mental illness," Lau said. "The second is they think this is a normal part of aging and the third is they think this is from something they have done wrong in their past life."

As difficult as it is to educate the public about Alzheimer's, experts said it's even harder when outreach efforts collide with cultural roadblocks. Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians are still widely underrepresentated in support groups, adult day programs and nursing homes, experts said.