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Director of Memory Disorders Center at UTRGV Institute for Neurosciences to focus on Alzheimer’s, dementia, in Valley’s senior Latinos

Dr. Gladys Maestre, professor of biomedical sciences at the UTRGV School of Medicine and director of the Memory Disorders Center at UTGRV’s Institute for Neurosciences, is conducting research about the high number of Alzheimer’s and dementia cases in the Rio Grande Valley’s Latino population. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

Dr. Gladys Maestre, professor of biomedical sciences at the UTRGV School of Medicine and director of the Memory Disorders Center at UTRGV Institute for Neurosciences, is conducting research about the high number of Alzheimer’s and dementia cases in the Rio Grande Valley’s Latino population. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

By Vicky Brito

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – OCT. 19, 2017 – Dr. Gladys Maestre, professor of biomedical sciences at the UTRGV School of Medicine, wants to know more about why the number of dementia cases in the Valley’s Latino population is so high.

So Maestre, director of the Memory Disorders Center at UTRGV Institute for Neurosciences, plans to revisit former research she conducted in Venezuela and replicate the study in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We hope that we can provide services and establish a study in the community to learn about memory problems in the Valley, and how to empower the individuals, their families and the care givers,” she said.

THE MARACAIBO AGING STUDY

To understand what sort of studies Maestre – with expertise in human biology, genetics and bioinformatics – plans to conduct in the Valley, it is important to know the basis for the new study.

In 1998, Maestre conducted The Maracaibo Aging Study, in her home town of Maracaibo, Venezuela. The three-part study included a door-to-door survey to obtain demographical information, the collection of information regarding changes in the abilities of the subjects, and finally, a full physical workout, with tests. 

She believed a study of Latino cultural habits – like how they care for aging family members – would be helpful in understanding the high rate of Alzheimer’s and dementia in Latinos, and could facilitate a path to education and prevention.

“We thought it is possible that people may live longer if they have been taken care of at home,” Maestre said. “But the reality is, prevalence is one of the highest reported and it is not because people live longer with the disease. It is because there are too many new cases.” 

The Maracaibo Aging Study was the first longitudinal study on aging in Latin America, she said. “We identified the people within the community of Maracaibo, and we have assessed them many times since.”

In the initial stages, an in-depth characterization of living conditions, health, and cognitive functions such as memory, language and abstract thinking, were measured to determine effects of aging. 

“This is the only study that has been drawn long enough to make conclusions about portions of the disease and clinical presentation such as signs, symptoms,” Maestre said.

Last month, a paper – “Incidence of Dementia in Elderly Latin Americans: Results of the Maracaibo Aging Study” – outlining the results of her Maracaibo study were published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“This was the very first article that highlighted that this is indeed a problem in Latin America,” she said.

TODAY IN THE RIO  GRANDE VALLEY

As in Maracaibo, the frequency of Alzheimer’s and dementia in the Valley is very high, Maestre said. In addition, diabetes and cardiovascular problems are common in the Latino population.  

“What would happen if we improve the care, and we don’t have as many people dying from diabetes and cardiovascular disease? Would we have more or fewer Alzheimer’s cases?” she said. “This is really very worrisome, because we found that if you could account for this competing risk, then the number of cases of dementia would actually double.”

If care improves among people with Alzheimer’s, then the number of cases in the community will increase because the survival rate will go up, she said.

The type of care is critical, as well, as nursing homes are not the ultimate answer to caring for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

“We really need to be prepared to have more Latinos with Alzheimer’s, and we must especially recognize the need for early diagnosis,” she said.

Looking for early signs of memory loss is important for early diagnosis.

“At the beginning, the disease is very personal, so only you notice. Then others begin to notice, such as your family around you,” Maestre said. “We want people to be aware that with age come cognitive changes, but if you are noting that these are more and more frequent, then definitely you have to look for a good assessment.”

ABOUT UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Victoria.Brito@utrgv.edu
Informational Writer / 956-882-4330

Marci.Caltabiano@utrgv.edu
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications 956-665-2742