(CN) — A new study indicates that structural racism and income inequality may have a significant effect on who develops dementia after the age of 65.
Columbia University researchers recently found that nearly 10% of adults 65 and older have dementia and 22% have mild cognitive impairment. Individuals classified as having a mild cognitive impairment may or may not progress to experiencing more significant impairments in the future, while dementia is a more intractable condition.
Additionally, the researchers' study, published Monday in JAMA Neurology, says that the people most likely to develop dementia and mild cognitive are not only older, but are also more likely to be Black or Latino, and less likely to have received higher education.
The researchers say there is a scarcity of accurate information about dementia and mild cognitive impairments due to the fact that prior studies focused on college educated, white people. That's whey they studied a more diverse group of people.
“Such data is critical for understanding the causes, costs, and consequences of dementia and mild cognitive impairment in the United States, and for informing policies aimed at reducing their impact on patients, families, and public program,” said Jennifer J. Manly, the study’s lead author and a professor of neuropsychology in neurology at the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center and the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University.
Between 2016 and 2017, the researchers conducted a comprehensive set of neuropsychological tests and in-depth interviews of 3,500 participants from their Health and Retirement Study, and used this data gleaned to develop an algorithm for diagnosing dementia or mild cognitive impairment. The researchers described the participants as “nationally representative,” diverse in their in age, race and ethnicity, gender, and education level.
Older adults who self-identified as Black or African American made up the largest percentage of adults with dementia at 15%, followed by 10% of Hispanic/Latino participants and 9% of white participants. Hispanic/Latino participants made up 28% of people with mild cognitive impairment, followed by Black/African American participants at 22% and white participants at 21%.
Participants with a high school or lower education level were most likely to have dementia (13%) or mild cognitive impairment (30%). As for those with a college degree or higher level of education, 9% had dementia while 21% had mild cognitive impairment.
The study also determined that older adults are most affected by cognitive impairments.
According to the study, 3% of people between the ages of 65 and 69 have dementia, and that percentage shoots up to 35% among people aged 90 and older. Due to the increasing longevity of people living in the U.S., particularly the aging Baby Boom generation, researchers expect the numbers of those with cognitive impairments to increase significantly over the next few decades.
The researchers estimate the economic impact of dementia on the U.S., including unpaid family caregiving, to be $257 billion a year in the U.S. and $800 billion worldwide.
“This study is representative of the population of older adults and includes groups that have been historically excluded from dementia research but are at higher risk of developing cognitive impairment because of structural racism and income inequality. If we’re interested in increasing brain health equity in later life, we need to know where we stand now and where to direct our resources,” Manly said.
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