Disadvantages Raise the Risk of Dementia for African-Americans

Recent studies explored the racial disparities in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and found that the stress of living in disadvantaged neighborhoods may substantially increase the risk of dementia among African-Americans.Disadvantages Raise the Risk of Dementia for African-Americans

Learn more about these studies and the impact of social factors on brain health and the risk of dementia.

Studies Show Racial Inequities Play a Role in the Risk of Dementia

In four separate studies, researchers concluded that conditions that disproportionately affect African-Americans – including poor living conditions and stressful life events – may have a severe impact on brain health later in life.

One of the four studies from the University of Wisconsin concluded that stress can reduce brain function by years, while another study from Wisconsin found that living in a “disadvantaged” neighborhood was correlated to cognitive decline later in life and even an increase in biomarkers for Alzheimer’s.

Researchers studied the effects of high stress events on brain health. African-Americans reported more than 60% of these stressful events and the study linked these events with lower cognitive function.

Stressful events included:

  • Family bankruptcy
  • Parents with alcohol-related problems
  • Problems in school

Researchers also concluded that the participants from the most disadvantaged areas performed worse in every aspect of cognitive testing and had higher levels of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s.

The other two studies from Kaiser Permanente and University of California San Francisco found a link between dementia and people born in states with higher rates of infant mortality. Researchers found that African-American participants born in one of the 10 states with the highest infant mortality rates had a 40% higher risk of dementia than African-Americans not born in states with high infant mortality rates.

It is unclear if the effects of stress and social disadvantage is a direct result or the result of associated factors, like when a particularly stressful event affects education and then limits achievement later on in life.

The Environmental Impact on Dementia

Other studies have suggested that African-Americans are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s due to genetics and higher rates of other risk factors, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. More recently, researchers believe that social factors may also increase the risk of dementia.

Physician and researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Amy J. Kind, says, “This linkage between neighborhood disadvantage and Alzheimer’s has never been explored until our work.”

Megan Zuelsdorff, epidemiologist with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says:

“No one’s looking at the same kind of things, but the research all dovetails really well. It is the social environment that’s contributing to disparities.”

She went on to say that these studies suggest interventions are needed in these communities to help reduce the impact of racial inequities on brain health. She also said that none of the studies bring good news, except that they are able to be changed.

What do you think about the role of race and social disadvantage in Alzheimer’s and dementia? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • Robb49

    It is fairly easy to understand why factors like stress, unhealthy habits and high blood pressure can contribute to developing Alzheimer’s disease. What is not so clear that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood is a uncontrollable factor. Even if you don’t have a high paying job or a fancy house, you choose what you put in your body. A lot has been done to educate people about the harm that things like cigarettes, drugs and poor diets do to your body and even if you park a truck full of free vegetables in front of their house, people will still choose to go to the McDonald’s and eat crap. A lot of effort is being made these days to make healthy choices available to people regardless of their income. But, they won’t stop smoking or even try to change their lifestyles. Rarely do free vegetables trucks run out of produce.

    Also, it’s not discrimination that makes black Americans more likely to develop dementia, it’s genetics. Black people are genetically prone to have high blood pressure which also increases their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. They are also least likely to do anything about it even if diagnosed. You can’t force people to put down thecigarettes and the fried potatoes. BUT, by calling it a consequence of racial inequality, you are reinforcing their excuses for not taking care of themselves and just making things worse.

    Maybe, there should be a study on how much influence reckless reporting has on people and how that relates to their health and social problems.

    • What

      I highly suggest you do some reading about Sapolsky and his research on the effects of stress and how it intermingles with social hierarchies. Race related differences in disease doesn’t always come down to behavior, the effects of racial inequality are real and literally cause stress to the body. It’s appaling how this study is basically saying racial inequalities are causing higher incidences of dementia and you’re insisting it’s down to behavior. Please do some more research before leaving insensitive comments.

      • Robb49

        Both stress from racial inequalities and life choices can impact dementia. But, a stressful living environment, residing in an area with fewer medical facilities, even sports injuries all increase the likelihood of developing dementia in all races and that, as well poor life choices, impact far more black people to a far greater degree than racial inequality. That rates way down on the list below the factors people can control and really can’t be measured other than through statistics, and even then not with a high margin of reliability. So, it’s a reach by someone trying to get published and has very little impact in the real world where most people need to take care of themselves and control their high blood pressure and eating habits if they want to stave off the effects of dementia. If you abuse your body with cigarettes, drug abuse, obesity and violence, your race isn’t what you should blame when you develop dementia in your fifties and sometimes even forties. It’s not racist. It applies to everybody.

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