The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms: A comparison of the United States and Mexico


Anthropology, UMass Amherst

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

This project draws on interviews conducted in Puebla, Mexico and Springfield, Massachusetts to identify cross-cultural differences in how Alzheimer’s disease (AD) symptoms are recognized. In Mexico little is known about which symptoms motivate a caregiver to seek an AD diagnosis and which symptoms are most troublesome to families.

Methods: Fifty-seven caregivers of people diagnosed with AD were interviewed across two field sites over 24 months. The caregivers lived with a family member who had an AD diagnosis. The diagnosed person was also interviewed.

Interviews were open-ended, lasting 2-4 hours, and prompted caregivers to self-identify symptoms. Follow-up interviews used neuropsychology questionnaires (e.g. Neuropsychiatric Inventory) to identify other symptoms.

Results: Latency from first symptom appearance to AD was longer in Mexico (4.1 years ± 3.1) than the US (2.2 years ± 1.2). Caregivers in Mexico reported psychiatric symptoms (e.g. irritability, depression) as most bothersome, whereas US caregivers reported disorientation and verbal repetitions. Apart from verbal repetition, caregivers rarely reported memory changes as a primary problem in either country.

Conclusion: Mexican caregivers sought diagnosis at a later stage of AD and for different reasons than caregivers in the US. Those differences can be traced to divergent definitions of normal/abnormal aging. Similarly, caregivers in Mexico were more troubled by behavioral disturbances than their US counterparts, possibly explained by cultural differences in coping strategies for age-related cognitive decline. The impact of an AD diagnosis varies between the US and Mexico, suggesting that education initiatives and post-diagnosis counseling/advising ought to reflect local realities.

Thank you to the Wenner Gren Foundation for a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant (Grant Number: 2016-2995)