People who are frequently exposed to racial discrimination are more likely to develop disorders such as type 2 diabetes, insomnia, and poor stress management. In the long term, this could accelerate the risk of dementia and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The discrimination situations described in the study can range from poor reception by a shopkeeper (everyday racism at a low level) to institutional discrimination such as the refusal to provide the person with housing (high-level racism).
According to a 2017 survey, experiences of racism are widespread among African Americans, with 50 percent or more of respondents in the study reporting such experiences. These institutional and everyday forms of racism have been associated with adverse health effects such as the increased risk of depression, sleep deprivation, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension.
A new study published in mid-July in the journal Alzheimer’s Association and conducted in the United States on 17,323 African-American women shows long-term effects on the cognitive health of people who regularly suffer from racial discrimination. To arrive at these conclusions, the research team focused on six specific questions based on the dementia indicator model called subjective cognitive function (SCF)
A link between racial discrimination and Alzheimer’s disease
The results obtained indicate that the women in the study are exposed to stresses that, depending on the intensity of the discrimination experienced, can impair cognitive functions, especially memory. The situations described can range from poor reception by a shopkeeper (everyday racism at a low level) to institutional discrimination, such as refusal to grant housing to individuals (racism at a high level). Women who report high levels of institutional racism are 2.66 times more likely to experience cognitive decline than women who do not report such experiences.
“Our work suggests that the chronic stress associated with racial discrimination may contribute to racial differences in Alzheimer’s disease,” says Lynn Rosenberg, a researcher at Boston University who led the study.
Rosenberg also points out that more work is needed to determine whether exposure to institutional and everyday racism accelerates the progression of dementia to Alzheimer’s disease or increases levels of Alzheimer’s biomarkers.
In short, the chronic stress associated with racial discrimination can contribute to racial differences in Alzheimer’s disease.