• dementia;
  • ethnicity;
  • health beliefs;
  • explanatory models

Understanding variability in conceptions of dementia in multiethnic populations is important to improve care and guide research. The objectives of this study were to describe caregiver conceptions of dementia using a previously developed typology and to examine the correlates of conceptions of dementia in a multiethnic sample. This is a cross-sectional study conducted in Boston and the San Francisco Bay area. Participants were a convenience sample of 92 family dementia caregivers from four ethnic/racial groups: African-American, Anglo European-American, Asian-American, and Latino. In-depth, qualitative interviews explored the caregivers' ideas about the nature and cause of dementia (i.e., explanatory models). Explanatory models of caregivers were categorized as biomedical, folk, or mixed (folk/biomedical). Quantitative analyses examined the association between ethnicity and other caregiver characteristics, and explanatory model type. Overall, 54% of caregivers, including 41% of Anglo European Americans, held explanatory models that combined folk and biomedical elements (i.e., mixed models). For example, many families attributed Alzheimer's disease and related dementias to psychosocial stress or normal aging. Ethnicity, lower education, and sex were associated with explanatory model type in bivariate analyses. In multiple logistic regression analysis, minority caregivers (P<.02) and those with less formal education (P<.02) were more likely to hold mixed or folk models of dementia. Although minority and nonminority caregivers often incorporated folk models into their understanding of dementia, this was more common in minority caregivers and those with less formal education. Further research on cross-ethnic differences in a larger, more-representative sample is needed.