Alzheimer’s in the Asian Community

By Peter Trinh

My goal was to create a documentary that highlights the stigmas, lack of awareness, imbalance of the medical system, and the heavy burden that comes with medical issues that are seen with Asians that are not as apparent in other ethnicities. Ultimately, this film aims to raise awareness on these cultural issues. The title of this film “GAPS” refers to the gaps in the affected person’s memories, gaps in the system, and gaps in general awareness and knowledge. This film hits close to home as my father-in-law is in late stages of Alzheimer’s. My father-in-law ultimately was diagnosed late because of the lack of awareness in the family. I’ve witnessed firsthand how difficult it was for the family to fully understand what this disease meant and how to care for him. I believe if a film like this had existed earlier, when my family could have watched it, it would’ve been a significant help in dealing with the enormous challenge of Alzheimer’s.

Although mental diseases are a global health issue, the cultural stigmas and traditions of being Asian play a major factor in how they are dealt with in the community. This is especially true of Alzheimer’s, a disease which affects millions of Asians, yet in most Asian countries and cultures, there is not even a word that exists to describe the disease.

To further complicate these cultural stigmas, at the center of Alzheimer’s lies the intersection where filial piety and stigma meet with this lack of understanding of mental diseases. Why is there such a lack of awareness of mental diseases in the Asian community? What contributes to all the shame and embarrassment of these issues? How does this affect younger Asian Americans who were raised in a different environment than the elderly? Although this documentary focuses on Alzheimer’s, the themes of family, stigma, and awareness apply to many aspects of Asian culture and the growing tension between Asian Americans and their immigrant parents.

Trang Tu, an advocate for Asian funding and Alzheimer’s awareness in the community, shares her emotional story of being the full-time caregiver to her mom, who is living with Alzheimer’s. Trang has experienced the difficulties and pressures of caring for her mother as an Asian-American and dealt with a system that does not yet fully understand and provide resources to minorities. These same topics are also discussed in the documentary with professional healthcare experts from various organizations and academia, including the Alzheimer’s Association, University of Washington, and the University of California, San Francisco.

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