Black Americans may be able to lower their increased risk of Alzheimer’s using sleep, according to a new study.
Conducted by neuroscientists from Rutgers University-Newark, the new study was recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. To conduct the study, the researchers enrolled the help of 114 Black American participants.
The neuroscientists split the cognitively healthy participants into groups, identifying those with the ABCA7 gene that puts them at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s and those without the gene. Each person was given a series of cognition tests and was also required to give themselves a test on their sleep patterns and quality.
In their findings, the neuroscientists reported that, amongst those with the gene, those who got an adequate amount of sleep didn’t display the inability to generalize previous learning, an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Those with the gene and with poor sleeping patterns did display this sign of early Alzheimer’s disease.
“There’s a growing awareness that sleep is crucial for brain health and this may be a significant contributor to the high rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias among African Americans,” said senior author of the paper and a Professor of Neuroscience and Public Health at Rutgers University, Mark A. Gluck, per a press release. “Sleep disruption of any sort can accelerate the progression of Alzheimers.”
Previous studies have already confirmed that Black Americans are among those that are most vulnerable when it comes to developing Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, almost 22% of Black Americans aged 70 or older have been diagnosed and are living with the illness.
Overall, Black Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to develop Alzheimer’s or a type of dementia. With these current rates, the number of Black Americans living with dementia is expected to increase in the coming decades.
While genes such as the ABCA7 gene studied in the most recent study were identified as a contributor to these higher rates, other recent research has identified racism as another factor.
According to a 2023 study by researchers from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, out of a cohort study of 1,000 participants, Black American participants were found to have lower memory scores at midlife because of high exposure to racism. Overall, the participants that experienced high levels of discrimination and stress were found to have lower memory when it came to ideas, facts and concepts.
Following the release of the findings, many leaders in healthcare drew attention to the need for systemic change to address the increased rate of Alzheimer’s in the Black American community.
“The problem is most people do not recognize that racism impacts all areas of our life such as the extended trauma seen in this study,” said Rev. Miriam J. Burnett, the medical director of the African Methodist Episcopal Church International Health Commission per a report by the Alzheimer’s Association. “This includes lack of access to quality care for our physical and mental health.”