Every Saturday at Casa Maravilla, a housing development for seniors in Chicago, dozens of older Latinos gather to dance and, they hope, help preserve their memory.
At twice-weekly practices, they step in sync in promenade-like moves to danzón, the slow and elegant musical genre that’s popular in Mexico. Or, they swish their hips and twist through each others’ arms to more energetic salsa.
The dancers are part of the Latino Alzheimer’s & Memory Disorders Alliance, or LAMDA, which started “Bailando por la Salud” (Dancing for Health) to inspire Latinos who are uncomfortable with other forms of exercise to get fit and healthier — which in turn may help stave off Alzheimer’s and other memory loss conditions.
“People come here to dance and they are also getting their exercise in a way that they feel is culturally relevant to them. They feel good, and they interact with each other,” says LAMDA Executive Director Constantina Mizis.
The Alzheimer’s Association of America calls Alzheimer’s “a looming yet unrecognized crisis in the Latino community.” Alzheimer’s affects Latinos in greater numbers than the general population and the number of Latinos with the condition could grow by 600 percent by 2050, the association says.
New research suggests that Mexican Americans – the country’s largest group of Latinos – develop risk factors that could lead to Alzheimer’s as early as a decade sooner than others. So getting the population in better shape could help not just their hearts, but their minds.