By Dylan Deprey
Stressful early life experiences age the brain by four years, and African Americans are most at risk, according to studies presented at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC 2017) in London on July 16, 2017.
On average, African Americans experience over 60 percent more stress events than non- Hispanic Whites over their lifetime.
Stress is more commonly known as being in a mental state, but it’s also the body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response, according to Medline Plus. Having short bursts of stress is natural, but chronic stress can have harsh effects physically and mentally.
So, whether it is witnessing a tragic shooting death, having a family member go to prison, losing a job that keeps the family afloat, or an unplanned teenage pregnancy, stressful lifetime experiences can also worsen memory and thinking.
Megan Zuelsdorff, Ph.D., at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and her associates studied how these stressful experiences impacted lifetime cognition as part of the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP) Study.
“Among African Americans in our study, adverse events across the lifespan predict cognitive function more strongly than established risk factors including age, education, and the APOE-e4 Alzheimer’s risk gene,” Zuelsdorff said. “Adversity is a clear contributor to racial disparities in cognitive aging, and further study is imperative.”
The study showed that the greatest burden seemed to fall disproportionately on historically disadvantaged communities, especially with the rising prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment.
Alzheimer’s Disease is the sixth leading cause of death, and kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“These studies were done with U.S. data, but they add weight to the global body of evidence around disadvantage and dementia risk, which is an issue governments around the world grapple with, and one that requires coordinated action,” said Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer.
Another study conducted by Rachel Whitmer, PhD, from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California (KPNC), and Maria M. Corrada, Sc.M., Sc.D., of the University of California, Irvine found that racial disparities in dementia continue into the oldest-old age (90 and older).
The study looked at dementia diagnoses from a group made up of White, African-American, Latino and Asian patients between 2010 and 2015. According to the study, showed increased rates for African Americans and decreased rates for Asian Americans.
“Our results show that racial inequities in rates of dementia at younger ages continue after age 90,” Whitmer said. “These are the first estimates of dementia incidence in a diverse cohort of individuals age 90 and older.
Given the increasing ethnic diversity in the coming decades, it is imperative to identify what factors contribute to the differences in rates, whether genetic, social, or lifestyle, as some of these factors may be modifiable.”
Another study conducted by Amy Kind, MD, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and her colleagues for the WRAP, looked at the connection between living in a disadvantaged neighborhood and increased Alzheimer’s Disease.
“This study provides evidence to suggest that living in a neighborhood challenged by poverty, low education, unemployment, and/or substandard housing may increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and may account for some of the observed differences in Alzheimer’s disease risk among people of different racial backgrounds and income levels,” said Kind.
Kind also found 50 million neighborhoods across the United States and Puerto Rico that could possibly use target dementia focused intervention and research programs.
For more information visit http://www.alz.org/