Racism Experiences Associated With Poorer Cognition

By Lou Portero - Last Updated: September 6, 2022

Experiences of structural and institutional racism are associated with lower memory scores and worse cognition in mid-life and old age, especially among black individuals, according to two observational studies presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

One of the studies led by Kristen George and colleagues at the University of California evaluated 522 people without dementia in their LifeAfter90 study. Thirty-three percent of the participants were white, twenty-three percent were Black, twenty-two percent were Asian, and fifteen percent were Latino. About half of the participants had mild cognitive impairment.

The participants were asked survey questions about discrimination experiences, including workplace, financial, and housing.

Based on their responses, the participants were placed in three groups:

  • Group one: Fifty-six people, comprised  mainly of white men, reported workplace discrimination 
  • Group two: Three hundred and ninety-eight people, consisting of White women and Asian, Black, and Latino older adults, reported little to no discrimination over their lifetime.
  • Group three: Sixty-eight people, mostly non-white, reported widespread discrimination and were all minorities.

The researchers found that the participants in Group one had better semantic memory than those in group two. The participants in group three had worse semantic memory at baseline compared to Group two. Across the group, there were no differences in verbal episodic memory.

According to the lead researcher, Kristen George, Hispanic/Latino adults have a one-and-a-half times higher risk of dementia than White adults, while older Black adults have two times the risk.

In the second study, Dominika Šeblová, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher in the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and colleagues surveyed 1,095 middle-aged adults in the Offspring Study in Manhattan about their experiences with interpersonal discrimination, institutional discrimination, and structural racism. Of the study participants, nine percent were white, twenty-six percent were Black, and fifty-five percent were Latino. The mean age was 55.

The researchers found that racism at all levels was most prevalent among people who were black. They also found that black participants experienced interpersonal discrimination at least once every week and had an average of six civil rights violations in their lifetime. 

According to the researchers, these exposures to structural racism were associated with lower memory scores, and the magnitude of the association suggested a loss of three years of chronological age. Structural racism was also associated with lower episodic memory in the total sample.

“Our research is showing that structural racism, as a chronic lifetime stressor for minoritized people, is associated with poor memory in middle age,” Šeblová said. “Our results suggest that efforts to increase systemic equality may also decrease risk for cognitive impairment later in life.”



Source: Medpage

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