Pgh study to examine how structural racism affects dementia in city’s Black communities

The RAND Corporation and Pitt study will involve 1,100 residents of the Hill District and Homewood neighborhoods

By: - March 18, 2022 2:03 pm

(Image via Pittsburgh City Paper)

By Jordana Rosenfeld

PITTSBURGH — A new study will follow residents of two predominantly Black neighborhoods in Pittsburgh to examine how exposure to the legacies of structural racism at the neighborhood and individual levels may contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia in Black people.

The RAND Corporation and the University of Pittsburgh study will involve 1,100 residents of the Hill District and Homewood, looking at how neighborhood segregation and subsequent disinvestment contributes to poor cognitive outcomes for Black populations by lowering access to education and elevating exposure to stressors such as discrimination.

While Black populations tend to have higher rates of Alzheimer’s and related dementias relative to white Americans, there is a lack of a comprehensive understanding of how the lived experiences of being Black may be associated with those risks.

“Understanding the structural factors and the resulting life experiences that contribute to differences in the risk of Alzheimer’s and related dementia risk among African Americans is critical to advancing our knowledge of the historical impact of policies on African Americans today, in addition to future prevention and intervention efforts,” Tamara Dubowitz, co-leader of the project and a senior policy researcher at RAND, said.

The five-year study is supported by a $9.6 million grant from the National Institute on Aging and is a part of RAND’s ongoing PHRESH project that, for a decade, has studied the impact of neighborhood investment on diet, sleep, health and well-being of residents of the Hill and Homewood districts in Pittsburgh.

Researchers will also examine potential protective factors that may promote cognitive health, including neighborhood social cohesion, safety and satisfaction, and the role of sleep problems in contributing to cognitive decline.

“Sleep problems are also highly prevalent among Blacks and emerging research suggests that sleep problems may contribute to cognitive decline,” Wendy Troxel, co-leader of the project and a RAND senior behavioral scientist, said.

Jordana Rosenfeld is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared

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