Stress of poverty, racism raise risk of Alzheimer’s for African Americans, new research suggests

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Disadvantaged areasCan social conditions, including the stress of poverty, increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease? A new study discussed in this Washington Post article suggests it can.

A new group of studies into racial disparities among people with Alzheimer’s disease suggests that social conditions, including the stress of poverty and racism, substantially raise the risks of dementia for African Americans.

In four separate studies, researchers found that conditions that affect blacks disproportionately compared with other groups — such as poor living conditions and stressful events such as the loss of a sibling, the divorce of one’s parents or chronic unemployment — have severe consequences for brain health later on.

One study by University of Wisconsin researchers found that stress literally takes years off a person’s life in terms of brain function — an average of four years for African Americans, compared with 1½ years for whites.

Another Wisconsin study showed that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood is associated with later decline in cognitive function and even the biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia.

In the other two studies, researchers with Kaiser Permanente and the University of California at San Francisco found a higher degree of dementia risk for people born in states with high rates of infant mortality. Researchers at Kaiser Permanente and the University of California at Irvine found that racial disparities in the incidence of dementia that were previously found among people who are 65 years and older also appear in the very oldest demographic, people who are 90 or older.