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Delving into the minds of aging Latinos

Delving into the minds of aging Latinos

Pablo Mora, psychology assistant professor

Getting older comes with physical aches and pains that are often unmistakable, but gauging emotional troubles can be a lot more challenging for patients and their doctors.

Psychology Assistant Professor Pablo Mora is working on a way to change that, starting in the Latino community.

“The key theme to my research is trying to understand how people think about illnesses and how those beliefs affect what they do,” Dr. Mora says.

In the case of depression, evidence suggests that among Latinos, cultural beliefs play a role in treatment disparities. The medical community has known for more than a decade that minorities are less likely to receive mental health services and often receive poorer quality care.

Mora studies sub-threshold depression—symptoms not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of major depression but still detrimental—that manifest in Latinos older than 55. Evidence indicates that if left untreated, this can impair physical function and increase the risk of disability.

Mora’s work has received support from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at UT Austin and from UT Arlington’s Research Enhancement Program.

“The information we obtain from this study could be applied to train health care providers to increase their cultural competency and ask better questions of their Latino patients,” he says. “Latinos represent more than 37 percent of the population in Texas, so this study has the potential to reach a large number of people who are in great need of mental health services.”

Octavio Martinez Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation, echoes Mora’s sentiments.

“This is significant information needed by all providers to ensure positive health outcomes,” Martinez says. “It also helps to address mental health disparities, especially within the context of demographic changes affecting Texas and the nation at large.”