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Living in Poorer Communities May Raise Risk of Developing Dementia

There are over 5 million Americans over 65 years old who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. There have been numerous studies examining how various factors (such as age, education, social engagement, medical health, etc.) can impact the likelihood of someone developing dementia.

A recent study published in JAMA Neurology suggested that living in a disadvantaged socioeconomic community could raise the risk that older adults will lose brain volume as they age. The researchers stated that "cardiovascular risk mediated this association for total brain tissue volume but not for hippocampal volume, suggesting that neighborhood-level disadvantage may be associated with these 2 outcomes via distinct biological pathways."

The report examined 951 participants (637 women [67.0%]; mean [SD] age, 63.9 [8.1] years) that were living in the 20% most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The researchers found that these individuals living in the most disadvantaged areas had a 4.1% lower hippocampal volume and 2.0% lower total brain tissue volume. This is noteworthy as total brain tissue and hippocampal volume play a major role in cognition, in particular learning and memory. Although shrinkage of the brain will occur during the aging process the exact threshold when it initially results in cognitive decline has not been fully agreed upon.

The researchers found a "robust association" between neighborhood-level socioeconomic disadvantage (including local levels of poverty, education, income, employment and infrastructure) and lower hippocampal volume. However, there were less evident findings regarding total brain tissue volume.

The researchers also suggested that adults from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods were more likely to have lower education levels and to be nonwhite compared to other neighborhoods that were not quite as disadvantaged. They did not report any notable significant differences by age, gender, or family history of dementia in the group. People with lower socioeconomic status have been shown to typically have a harder time accessing health care and healthy foods which can increase their risk of experiencing cardiovascular issues. Hopefully, future studies will continue to be developed to better understand the connections between living in certain communities impact dementia risk as well as ways to develop interventions to limit that risk.

If you live in the New Jersey or New York area and would like to schedule a neuropsychological evaluation for yourself or a family member in order to determine if there have been any potential cognitive-related changes that would be atypical for your age and education please contact Dr. Corey Burchette at 201-577-8286 to inquire about scheduling an appointment at the NJ Memory Center which is located in Verona, New Jersey.

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