Many studies show that African Americans perform more poorly on neuropsychological cognition tests compared to white Americans due to daily forms of racism. In a 2017 national survey, 50% of African American respondents reported experiencing racial discrimination. These incidents have also been associated with increased risks of various conditions including depression, poor sleep, type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Using data from the Black Women’s Health Study, researchers from Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center used six questions about memory and cognition to look at the association between experiences of racism and subjective cognitive function (SCF).
They found that women reporting the highest level of daily racism had 2.75 times the risk of poor SCF as women reporting the lowest level of daily racism. Women in the highest category of institutional racism had 2.66 times the risk of poor SCF as those who reported no such experiences.
Senior author Lynn Rosenberg, ScD, epidemiologist at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health and a principal investigator of the Black Women’s Health Study, explained:
“Our findings of a positive association of experiences of racism with poorer subjective cognitive function are consistent with previous work demonstrating that higher perceived psychological stress is associated with greater subjective memory decline. Our work suggests that the chronic stress associated with racial discrimination may contribute to racial disparities in cognition and AD.”
These findings appear online in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring.
This study was supported in part by the National Cancer Institute grants R01CA058420 and UM1CA164974, the National Institute on Aging grant R21AG060269 and Alzheimer’s Association grant AARG-17-529566.