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Researchers identify numerous factors that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease

by Joe Gamm | August 5, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Socioeconomic status, institutional racism and poor diet can lead to Alzheimer's disease, researchers have found.

The Alzheimer's Association on Wednesday released findings shared during its annual international conference, which just concluded in San Diego.

The event, which was a hybrid conference -- offering in-person and virtual participation -- featured 9,500 attendees and more than 4,000 scientific presentations, according to the association. It covered the breadth of Alzheimer's and dementia research, including the basic biology of aging and the brain, risk factors and prevention strategies, care-giving, and living well with the disease.

Findings included:

• A study found that people who eat large amounts of ultra-processed foods have a faster decline in cognition. Researchers studied 10,775 people over eight years and found high consumption (more than 20 percent of daily intake) of ultra-processed foods led to a 28 percent faster decline in global cognitive scores, including memory, verbal fluency and executive function. Ultra-processed foods go through significant industrial processes and contain large quantities of fats, sugar, salt, artificial flavors/colors, stabilizers and/or preservatives. Examples include sodas, breakfast cereals, white bread, potato chips and frozen junk foods.

• Studies found persistent loss of smell due to COVID-19 is closely connected to long-lasting cognitive problems. And intensive care unit (ICU) stays may double risk of dementia in older adults. A research group from Argentina found persistent loss of the sense of smell may be a better predictor of long-term cognitive and functional impairment than severity of the initial COVID-19 disease. In a large study population from nine Latin American countries, experiencing a positive life change during the pandemic, such as more quality time with friends and family, reduced the negative impact of the pandemic on memory and thinking skills. Finally, hospitalization in the ICU was associated with double the risk of dementia in older adults, according to Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago.

• Experiences of structural, interpersonal and institutional racism are associated with lower memory scores and worse cognition in midlife and old age, especially among Black individuals. In a study of nearly 1,000 middle-age community-dwelling adults (55 percent Latino, 23 percent Black, 19 percent white), exposure to interpersonal and institutional racism was associated with lower memory scores. The associations were strongest in Black individuals. Experiences of structural racism were associated with lower episodic memory among all racial and ethnic groups included in the study. In a study of 445 Asian, Black, Latino, white and multiracial people ages 90 and above, individuals who experienced wide-ranging discrimination throughout life had poorer long-term memory in late life compared to those who experienced little to no discrimination.

• Socioeconomic status -- reflecting social and economic measures of a person's work experience, and of an individual's or family's economic access to resources and social position -- has been linked to both physical and psychological health and well-being. Socioeconomic deprivation, including neighborhood disadvantages and persistent low wages, are associated with higher dementia risk, lower cognitive performance and faster memory decline, according to several studies: Individuals who experience high socioeconomic deprivation -- measured using income/wealth, unemployment rates, car/home ownership and household overcrowding -- are significantly more likely to develop dementia compared to individuals of better socioeconomic status, even at high genetic risk. Lower-quality neighborhood resources and difficulty paying for basic needs were associated with lower scores on cognitive tests among Black and Latino individuals. Compared with workers earning higher wages, sustained low-wage earners experienced significantly faster memory decline in older age.

The Alzheimer's Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer's care, support and research. Its mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Visit alz.org or call 1-800-272-3900 for more information.

Print Headline: Researchers identify numerous factors that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease

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