MGH services for Hispanic patients and families with memory disorders: MGH Memory Disorders Unit

Latinos in Massachusetts and in the USA face many challenges when it comes to receiving quality health care. Not only do language barriers deter Latino patients from seeking help, but cultural differences, such as the norm of not wanting to bother people with their problems, can make it challenging to communicate their needs to their physicians and may delay treatment. Barriers to healthcare access are higher for Latinos compared to non-Hispanic black and white adults in Massachusetts. Challenges regularly faced by Hispanic elders include limited access to or resistance to seeking medical care, language barriers, and other factors contributing to delay in diagnosis and treatment.

The Memory Disorders Unit at the Department of Neurology provides comprehensive evaluation, diagnostic and treatment services for adult patients that present with memory complaints, disturbances in language or changes in behavior. Common disorders treated in this clinic include Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia such as frontotemporal degeneration and Lewy Body dementia. Several specialized outpatient clinics such as the Memory Disorders Unit (MDU), the Frontotemporal Disorders Unit (FTD), the Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus clinic, and the Lewy body Dementia clinic are all encompassed under the Memory Disorders Division. The MDU has a clinic in Spanish that focuses on evaluating patients who only speak Spanish or have Spanish listed as preferred language.

The MDU Spanish clinic is staffed by bilingual board-certified neurologists, geriatric psychiatrists, nurses and social work resource specialists that work to ensure Latino patients feel comfortable and receive quality care.

There is an important benefit to patients when they can interact with bilingual medical personnel directly instead of having interpreters, be they family or medical interpreters who work in the hospital. It’s believed that  interpreters may add another layer of perception of a patient’s disorders and can affect the assessment and diagnosis. While having interpreters is necessary when the provider does not speak Spanish, having medical personnel who can speak Spanish directly to the patient and their family, sympathize and relate culturally with their patients is incredibly important.

– Valentina Rojas Posada, MAPP Scholar