Ageing and Society

Submitted Articles

Older adults' concerns about cognitive health: commonalities and differences among six United States ethnic groups

JAMES N. LADITKAa1 c1, SARAH B. LADITKAa1, RUI LIUa2, ANNA E. PRICEa3, BEI WUa4, DANIELA B. FRIEDMANa5, SARA J. CORWINa5, JOSEPH R. SHARKEYa6, WINSTON TSENGa7, REBECCA HUNTERa8 and REBECCA G. LOGSDONa9

a1 Department of Public Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA.

a2 Epidemiology Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.

a3 Department of Health and Exercise Science, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina, USA.

a4 Gerontology Program, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA.

a5 Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behaviour, University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA.

a6 Texas Healthy Aging Research Network Collaborating Center (TxHAN) at the School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, USA.

a7 School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, USA.

a8 Carolina Geriatric Education Centre, and Centre for Ageing and Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA.

a9 Psychosocial and Community Health, University of Washington School of Nursing, Seattle, USA.

ABSTRACT

We studied concerns about cognitive health among ethnically diverse groups of older adults. The study was grounded in theories of health behaviour and the representation of health and illness. We conducted 42 focus groups (N=396, ages 50+) in four languages, with African Americans, American Indians, Chinese Americans, Latinos, Whites other than Latinos (hereafter, Whites) and Vietnamese Americans, in nine United States locations. Participants discussed concerns about keeping their memory or ability to think as they age. Audio recordings were transcribed verbatim. Constant comparison methods identified themes. In findings, all ethnic groups expressed concern and fear about memory loss, losing independence, and becoming ‘a burden’. Knowing someone with Alzheimer's disease increased concern. American Indians, Chinese Americans, Latinos and Vietnamese Americans expected memory loss. American Indians, Chinese Americans and Vietnamese Americans were concerned about stigma associated with Alzheimer's disease. Only African Americans, Chinese and Whites expressed concern about genetic risks. Only African Americans and Whites expressed concern about behaviour changes. Although we asked participants for their thoughts about their ability to think as they age, they focused almost exclusively on memory. This suggests that health education promoting cognitive health should focus on memory, but should also educate the public about the importance of maintaining all aspects of cognitive health.

(Accepted November 08 2010)

(Online publication January 20 2011)

Correspondence:

c1 Address for correspondence: James N. Laditka, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 9201 University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA. E-mail: jladitka@uncc.edu