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Alzheimer’s Research UK highlights socio-economic inequalities in dementia risk

The charity aims to improve the number of women participating in dementia research and grow awareness of dementia risk factors

Dementia

Early in this year, research presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in San Diego, California demonstrated a link between socio- economic deprivation, including neighbourhood disadvantages and persistent low wages, and a higher risk of dementia, lower cognitive performance and faster memory decline.

The research, taken from four separate studies, also showed that people who experience high socio-economic deprivation are ‘significantly more likely’ to develop dementia, compared to people who live in more affluent areas.

Dr Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Addressing health inequalities is a key part of the challenge of tackling dementia. These findings add to the growing body of evidence that the environment people live and work in affects their dementia risk, which government plays a key role in helping to shape.”

One large-scale study by the University of Luxembourg, which contributed to the findings, examined data taken from 196,368 participants’ records, including brain scans, from the UK Biobank. All participants also had their genetic risk for developing dementia evaluated. Having investigated the effect of ‘individual’ socio- economic deprivation, such as low income and ‘area-level’ socio-economic deprivation, including employment rates, the researchers found that both factors were linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Analysing the data from brain scans, the researchers also found that both forms of socio- economic deprivation were linked to a higher incidence of ‘white-matter lesions’, which are an indication of brain ageing and damage.

In a second study, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern found that there was an association between lower-quality neighbourhood resources, poorer access to food, heating and medical care, and exposure to violence with lower scores on cognitive tests among black and Latino individuals, compared to white participants.

Commenting on the results of this study, Mitchell said: “The impact of socio-economic status on cognition in black and Latino populations is particularly worrying, as we know that historically, dementia has often been misunderstood and highly stigmatised by many in these communities.”

Another study by researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, which contributed to the overall findings, looked to determine whether the socio-economic status of people’s parents could protect against the impact of higher levels of the p-tau181, a protein strongly associated with markers of Alzheimer’s disease, in their blood. The researchers found that in people with higher blood levels of p-tau181, having parents with a higher socio-economic status was associated with a slower rate of decline in memory, language and executive function as they got older.

The fourth study was conducted by researchers at Columbia University School of Public Health and sought to determine whether earning low hourly wages over a long period of time is linked to memory decline. Researchers used data from a long-term national study of American adults in midlife and examined the association between their employment and memory decline over 12 years. They found that, compared with workers who had never earned low wages, sustained low-wage earners experienced significantly faster memory decline in older age.

Mitchell continued: “Ultimately, these inequalities are profoundly unfair, but they are also avoidable. The government has a key role in addressing inequalities through a range of measures to improve poverty, employment, housing and education. Furthermore, there are steps people can take to boost their brain health and reduce the risk of dementia, including staying physically, socially and mentally active, which also need government support to ensure everyone can adopt these changes.”

Alzheimer’s Research UK welcomed the publication of the first government-led Women’s Health Strategy for England in July this year, and its ambitions to address the disproportionate impact of dementia on women. Although it is not fully understood why dementia is more prevalent in women, it is estimated that 65% of people living with dementia are women. Moreover, according
to data from the Office of National Statistics, the leading cause of death for females in England in 2020 was dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The charity’s strategy sets out ambitions to tackle deep-rooted, systemic issues within the health and care system to improve the health and well-being of women. It includes commitments to improve
the number of women participating in dementia research and grow awareness of dementia risk factors that may help reduce the number of women living with dementia in the future.

Emily Kimber is an assistant journalist at PMGroup Worldwide Ltd

1st December 2022

Emily Kimber is an assistant journalist at PMGroup Worldwide Ltd

1st December 2022

From: Research

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