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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Academics & Research

UH professor finds ways to bring Alzheimer’s awareness through telenovelas


soap operas

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Latin soap operas, or telenovelas, are highly popular among the Latino community. As a result, a UH faculty member used telenovelas to bring the community awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Luis D. Medina, a licensed clinical psychologist and a UH assistant professor, directs the Engaging Communities of Hispanics/Latinos for Aging Research Network. They partner with local community members across the country to find ways to address barriers to communicating information about brain health and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias to Latino communities. 

Hispanics/Latinos are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, but are less likely to receive an early diagnosis or care and are less likely to be involved in research for these conditions,” Medina said.

Medina shared that in addition to working as a researcher in this area for almost two decades, he also has a personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease; his grandmother died from ADRD. Leading him to be even more inspired to have his organization sponsor a “hackathon.”

The Jack J. Valenti School of Communication hosted a hackathon where nearly 30 aspiring writers competed in the one-day creative scriptwriting competition, with the goal of developing a telenovela script, or Latin American telenovela, to inform the Latino community about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

From some recent listening sessions we had with our group of Houstonian community members, we identified the telenovela as a potential vehicle to convey ADRD information in a culturally relevant manner,” Medina said. “Since we want our messaging and materials to be both by and for our community members, we decided a hackathon would help us recruit interested community members to help with writing the scripts.”

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding dementia and misconceptions about what it is, according to Medina. Therefore, he shared that sometimes the first step to bringing awareness is simply starting those conversations with friends and family members.

Students and community members can become familiar with some of the early warning signs of dementia, tips for brain health that can help build resistance and resilience to the disease, and local resources for those impacted by the disease or who simply want to learn more about it. 

Medina recommends organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association or government websites like Alzheimers.gov to start learning important information.

If you are interested in learning more from Medina and his organization, they will be hosting casual information sessions open to the community through their ongoing Cafecito series. In May, in collaboration with colleagues at the Texas Medical Center, they plan to hold a half-day symposium. 

The winning team from the hackathon will have their scripts produced into a telenovela by Valenti students airing in a five-part series on Facebook in the spring.

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