Good Heart Health May Protect Against Cognitive Decline in Black Women

(HealthDay News) — Middle-aged Black women with better heart health are less likely to show a decline in mental function, according to a study published online April 24 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Imke Janssen, Ph.D., from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and colleagues sought to determine the impact of cardiovascular health (CVH) on decline in the two domains of cognition that decline first in White and Black women at midlife. The analysis included 363 Black and 402 White women participating in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. Cognition was measured as processing speed and working memory.

After a mean follow-up of ~10 years, the researchers observed a decline in processing speed that was explained by race, age, and the three-way interaction of race, CVH, and time. In White women, CVH was unrelated to decline, but in Black women, poorer CVH was associated with greater decline. No declines in working memory were seen in the total cohort, by race, or by CVH.

“We were surprised that we did not find results like those of past studies, which showed cognitive decline in Black and White men and women, and found cardiovascular health to be more important for White adults rather than people in Black subgroups,” Janssen said in a statement. “We think these differences are due to the younger age of our participants, who began cognitive testing in their mid-40s, whereas previous studies started with adults about 10 to 20 years older.”

Abstract/Full Text

Cognitive decline and Black women

Cognitive decline, a gradual loss of mental abilities, affects millions of Americans. However, Black women in the United States face a unique set of challenges regarding this issue. While research on racial disparities in cognitive function is ongoing, evidence suggests Black women experience a higher risk of subjective cognitive decline (SCD) and may be more susceptible to certain neurodegenerative diseases.

Studies reveal that Black adults report subjective cognitive decline at a slightly higher rate than white adults. SCD refers to a person’s perception of their own cognitive decline, often expressed as concerns about memory lapses or difficulty concentrating. While not a diagnosis of dementia, SCD can be a precursor to more serious cognitive issues.

What contributes to SCD in Black women?

Chronic health conditions can contribute to cognitive decline through various mechanisms. For example, diabetes can damage blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow to the brain which can impair cognitive function. Additionally, chronic inflammation associated with conditions like diabetes and obesity can also negatively impact brain health.

Socioeconomic disparities can also play a significant role. Black Americans often experience lower socioeconomic status, which can lead to poorer access to quality health care, education, and healthy living environments. These factors are linked to higher rates of chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, all of which are known risk factors for cognitive decline.

While research suggests Black Americans may have a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, studies on this topic have yielded mixed results. Some studies show faster cognitive decline in Black individuals, while others do not. This inconsistency highlights the need for further research that specifically focuses on Black women and the factors influencing their risk of dementia.

Given the higher risk factors, early detection of cognitive decline is crucial for Black women. This can involve regular health screenings, cognitive assessments, and open communication with healthcare providers about any concerns regarding memory or thinking skills. Early intervention strategies like lifestyle modifications, cognitive training, and management of chronic conditions can help slow cognitive decline and improve quality of life. Addressing socioeconomic and health disparities, promoting early detection, and implementing culturally relevant interventions are crucial steps to ensure equitable access to cognitive health resources and support this vulnerable population.

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