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In My Community
Team Julita - Creating Alzheimer's Awareness in the Hispanic Community
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In September, Team Julita – 25 members strong – came together at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Milwaukee County to honor Julia Gonzalez,  dear mother, grandmother, sister and aunt , who had passed away just 10 days before.  Leading the team was two of Julia’s seven children, Paula Hernandez and Alejandro (Alex) Preciado.  For nearly 10 years, Paula, Alex, their sister Rosa, and other family members had watched Julia’s devastating decline to Alzheimer’s.

Family members started to see changes in Julia’s personality when she lived with her domestic partner.  “She would get undressed in front of family members at inappropriate times,” said her daughter Paula. “She didn’t realize that she was naked or almost half naked.  To her it was almost normal.” The family also noticed a drastic change in Julia’s personality.  This once vibrant and active woman became very sedentary, staying in bed and not wanting to eat. Surgery for a benign tumor also put Julia and her Alzheimer’s in a tail spin.  She became aggressive and violent.

Once Julia’s domestic partner saw the personality changes, he left and that caused Julia to become very depressed. Things spiraled, and the family needed to take the reins.  The transition was very difficult for the family. “The only person who was really able to be involved was my sister Rosa,” said Alex.  “She reached out to the rest of the family to help her. It was a huge change on every single level.”  Rosa rented a new property so that her Mom could move in, and Paula found her life changing dramatically as she took on the primary role as Julia’s caregiver.

The family sought assistance from the Alzheimer’s Association, where they were given education and resources and encouraged to seek a diagnosis.  They were also connected to the United Community Center’s adult day center.  For years, the geriatric professionals at UCC and Julia’s physician worked with the family to find ways to manage her condition and curb the violence. Both Paula and Alex know that Alzheimer’s disease is a growing public health problem that affects Hispanics to a greater degree than Caucasian’s. And they wish that more Hispanic families would reach out for help, like they did.  “This is one of the biggest problems in our Hispanic community – education,” said Alex. “We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the information in the newspaper, on TV, on the radio.  We don’t have anything to help us.” 

Alex, who is in media and marketing, also understands that the path to reach Hispanic families must be uniquely suited to their community.  “The approach is totally different with Latinos.  Totally emotional. If something is too complicated we move on.  And what people need to understand is that the first thing that Latino families need to cover is food on the table.  They need to survive.”
Having knowledge of these challenges and the culture in their community gives Alex and Paula a prime opportunity to make a difference.  In addition to encouraging other Latinos to join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, this brother and sister hope to connect more people in their community with the Alzheimer’s education and resources that are available through the Alzheimer’s Association and culturally competent partners like UCC.  “Families should know it’s about giving quality to the entire family living with the disease,” said Alex.  “It’s important to be in their shoes, to understand what they are going through.”

For the last two years of her life, Julia Gonzalez was confined to bed and received on-going hospice care.  The family firmly believes that the steps they took to learn about the disease allowed them to make the best decisions for her and expanded their horizons.  “It was difficult to watch at the beginning, but in the end it was a pleasure,” said Paula.  “Seeing my mom, I accepted. With God, I accepted.”


 

Alzheimer's Association

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Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research.