Researchers with UT Health San Antonio are hosting a bilingual community conversation Sunday about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and connect people to clinical trials.

Experts from UT Health San Antonio’s Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases and other national and international researchers focused on treating the disease in Hispanics will discuss improving the quality of life for people who are living with the disease and their caregivers. The event is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at the Holly Auditorium on the UT Health San Antonio campus at 7703 Floyd Curl Drive.

“We have a lot of programs and trials going focused on educating families on how to best support [a person with dementia], and we want to increase participation and let people know where and how to reach out for support,” said Dr. Sudha Seshadri, director of the Biggs Institute.

Seshadri said she hopes the community conversation will be well attended because while Hispanics are 20 percent of the U.S. population, they represent only five percent of participants in clinical trials, so Seshadri is hoping to recruit more people interested in research studies.

“We have much less information about how Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias affect this population, and we are trying to increase our outreach so we can have more information that will help to achieve better outcomes,” she said.

Panelists for the discussion include Jason Resendez, executive director of the Latinos Against Alzheimer’s Coalition; Dr. Luis Ignacio Brusco, a specialist in neurology and psychiatry and professor of medicine at the University of Buenos Aires; and Dr. Mercè Boada Rovira, a neurologist at the University of Barcelona.

The Biggs Institute, considered a key U.S. research center for enrolling Hispanics into clinical trials focused on early detection of and drug development for Alzheimer’s and dementia, aims to increase researchers’ understanding of the biology of the disease among Hispanics. It’s also studying how disparities in access to health care, healthy food, and social support impact the onset and severity of a diagnosis.

The community conversation also serves as the kickoff event for the second annual South Texas Alzheimer’s Disease Conference, which will focus on precision medicine and treatment options for the Hispanic population, on Feb. 24 and 25 at the Briscoe Western Art Museum.

“We have invited colleagues from different parts of Texas, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Spain because we want to partner with other parts of the world with similar ancestry to explore genetic clues to the disease with hopes of improving treatment,” Seshadri said.

In addition to clinical research, the Biggs Institute offers training and support groups for caregivers. Among other offerings, its Memory and Music program invites people in the middle stages of dementia to a rehearsal of the San Antonio Symphony because research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety and improve cognitive functioning for people with dementia.

Dr. Neela Patel, chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Care at UT Health San Antonio, said that families and patients with dementia often need a lot of social support because of the stigma associated with the disease.

“People don’t like the term dementia, and the stigma around it leads people to getting a late diagnosis or not reaching out for support or to be educated on the disease,” Patel said. “But it can be things as simple as exercising and having meaningful social interactions that help these patients have a better quality of life.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.