March 21, 2018

Stress of poverty, racism raise risk of Alzheimer's for blacks, study says

17 July 2017, 09:01 | Ross Houston

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Alan Sweet describes an illustration as part of a University of Wisconsin Madison study on dementia as part of a University of Wisconsin Madison study on dementia

The research - done by the University of Wisconsin - looked at 1,300 adults with an average age of 58 to see how their brains had been affected by different stressful things.

After ranking those blocks from least disadvantaged to most, the researchers then compared them with the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer's Prevention Study data of almost 1,500 people who had been tested for memory and cognitive function. They then tested cognitive performance - how the brain functions in memory, verbal and learning tests - and found people from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods had markedly worse performance across all areas.

Experts led by a team from Wisconsin University's school of medicine and public health in the USA found that even one major stressful event early in life may have an impact on later brain health.

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.

The studies showed that the number of people with Alzheimer's and other dementias differed between races and also suggested that stress in early life and neighborhood disadvantage contribute to increased dementia risk.

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The study, which has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, was presented at the Alzheimer's Association worldwide conference in London. It comes as no surprise that white Americans faced less stressful events because African Americans are also subjected to racial discrimination. Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association, says this disadvantage is something governments have been struggling with worldwide and it requires coordinated efforts to address. She said that even a change of school could be regarded as a stressful life event for some children.

A separate study by the Kaiser Permanente and the University of California at San Francisco found a higher degree of dementia risk for people born in states with high infant mortality rates.

"However, the findings do indicate that more should be done to support people from disadvantaged communities that are more likely to experience stressful life events." he said.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development for Alzheimer's Society, said studying the role of stress was complex. "Our findings suggest that differences in early life conditions may contribute to racial inequalities in dementia rate, and they point to growing evidence that early life conditions contribute to dementia risk in late life".

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