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Study Finds Black Americans’ Brains Age Faster Amidst More Links to Alzheimer’s Disease

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The brains of Black people age quicker than any other ethnic or racial group, according to a new study. 

Published Monday on JAMA Network, the study, titled “Brain Aging Among Racially and Ethnically Diverse Middle-Aged and Older Adults,” was conducted by a group of researchers from Columbia University. As part of their study, they looked at the information of almost 1,500 study participants that had an average age of their mid-50s, focusing on their MRI scan results. 

Looking at the scans, they focused specifically on the thickness of the layers in the cerebral cortex of the brain, known as the cortical thickness, where the brain disease Alzheimer’s is more likely to begin.

In their results, the researchers found that, of all the participants, Black participants involved in the study were affected by the cerebrovascular disease at earlier ages than anyone else. 

Racial disparities were most evident when comparing those in their late-life; while the difference between cortical thickness wasn’t as prominent between racial groups during the late-life stage, it highlights the fact that being that Black participants’ brains began to age during their mid-life, they might not be able to live long enough to reach the later stages of life. Those who do survive have healthier brains. 

The researchers hypothesize that the reasoning behind these rates lies in the fact that Black Americans need to deal with daily racial stressors. Amongst these racial stressors are daily discrimination and safety fears. 

‘It’s evidence that when we think about outcomes in late life, a lot of those changes are starting earlier in life,” said Adam Brickman, a researcher involved in the study and a neuropsychology professor at Columbia per health website Stat. “Cognitive aging is a lifelong phenomenon, not just something that happens when you turn 65.”

The results of the study are consistent with previous studies on race and Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, older Black Americans are two times more likely to develop the illness or another form of dementia than older white Americans are. 

Despite this higher rate, they’re still not receiving adequate treatment with just 48% of Black Americans reporting that they believe they can get proper care for the disease. Of those who have gone to the doctor, half of Black Americans say that they’ve been victims of discrimination. 

As a result, many Black Americans have inaccurately accepted Alzheimer’s disease as something that’s natural with 55% reporting that they believe memory loss is a natural sign of getting older.

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