Research Uncovers Link Between Untreated Depression and Cognitive Decline Among African Americans

A new study from researchers at the Mayo Clinic has found older African Americans with depression are more likely to experience a faster cognitive decline compared to White Americans with depression who are of a similar age.

The research team conducted their study to identify the association between the prevalence of previously identified dementia risk factors and cognitive decline among Black and White Americans. The researchers analyzed data from a sample of Black and White people who had at minimum two annual visits to the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Jacksonville, Florida, from 2008 to 2022. Some 28 percent of African American participants were described as cognitively impaired compared to 66 percent of their White peers. Depression was found among 36 percent of Black participants and 52 percent of White participants.

While the study uncovered an association with depression and cognitive decline among all participants, the rate of cognitive decline was faster in Black people compared to White people. Additionally, 73 percent of White participants with depression reported taking antidepressants compared to just 18 percent of Black participants with depression, suggesting untreated depression among African Americans may be a cause for the faster rate of cognitive decline.

The researchers also analyzed other dementia risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. Among all risk factors they reviewed outside of depression and brain injury, few were considered to have a significant association with rates of cognitive decline among Black Americans, even though this population had a higher frequency of the aforementioned risk factors.

Considering the relationship they found between depression and cognitive decline, the researchers believe “optimizing depression screening and treatment may improve cognitive trajectories and outcomes” for Black Americans.

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  1. Consistent with other finding showing that cognitive decline is not inevitable, or entirely genetic or biological but a result of the disparities in care especially in mental health services that persist in the African American commnity.

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