According to new findings reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), experiencing racism and/or discrimination is associated with worse cognition in mid and late life, especially among Black individuals. A first study, looking at nearly 1,000 middle-aged Black, Latino and White people, assessed experiences of interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism. Research showed that Black individuals are the most likely to be exposed to racism, civil rights violations and discrimination throughout their lives. While these experiences led to a lower memory score in Black participants, structural racism was associated with lower episodic memory (memory of previous experiences) among the three groups included in the study. A second study revealed that lifetime experiences of discrimination worsen the semantic memory (memory of general knowledge) in late life. 468 old-aged participants with an average age of 93, from diverse racial and ethnic groups (Asian, Black, White, Latino and multiracial), reported experiences of major lifetime discrimination via questionnaires. Based on their responses, participants were classified into three groups.
Group 1 referred to workplace discrimination and was reported by mostly White men. Group 2 was composed of White women and Asian, Black and Latino old-aged adults who reported little to no discrimination over their lifetime. Group 3 referred to non-White participants who experienced discrimination across workplace, housing and financial domains. One of the major findings of the study was that participants in group 3 (i.e., those reporting lifetime major discrimination) had worse semantic memory at baseline compared to the participants who reported little discrimination or no discrimination at all. However, no difference in cognitive decline was reported over time (after 1.2 years) among the three groups. The researchers said that their findings highlight that wide-ranging discrimination and exposure to racism during one's life are associated with poorer cognitive health in old age. Addressing inequities in socioeconomic status, and access to education, healthcare, and healthy food may therefore contribute to reducing dementia risk, in particular in groups who are at higher risk of experiencing discrimination.