Study Discovers Link Between Midlife Exposure to Racism and Risk of Dementia

A team of researchers led by the University of Georgia, in partnership with University of Iowa and Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, have found a link between middle-aged Black American’s exposure to racism and their risk for Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

The study analyzed 17 years of interview and blood sample data from 255 Black Americans who participated in the Family and Community Health Study. The research team examined serum biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s disease and measured each participants exposure to racism over the nearly two decades-long evaluation period. The authors measured racial discrimination through the participants responses to surveys asking about their encounters with disrespectful treatment, racial slurs, social exclusion due to their race, and other similar situations.

The results showed no initial correlation between exposure to racism and increased levels of serum biomarkers in the early years of their evaluation period when the participants were approximately 46 years old. However, they did find a significant correlation when following up with the participants 11 years later at an average age of 57.

The authors believe their findings suggest evidence that mental stress from repeated exposure to racial discrimination can result in a biological impediment over time. They encourage policymakers to develop interventions through a lens of cultural sensitivity and anti-racism to reduce Black Americans’ increased risk for dementia.

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