Alzheimer’s disease risk may depend on where you live

PESHAWAR (Agencies): Past research and a deadly pandemic have pointed to how living in a struggling, underserved community can be hazardous to a person’s health. Now, a study out this week offers additional evidence that people living in an unstable neighborhood may be at greater risk for development of Alzheimer’s disease, one of the top causes of death in the US.

Researchers with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health examined volume in Alzheimer’s-linked areas of the brain as well as cognitive functioning in people who resided in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Compared with residents of other neighborhoods, residents in these areas were more likely to develop brain shrinkage over time and to perform more poorly on testing assessing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The results provide “preliminary evidence for an association between neighborhood-level disadvantage and longitudinal neurodegeneration” and link “structural and functional decline in the same study cohort,” according to the analysis, published ahead of print Wednesday by Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“We know that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood is linked to greater risk for experiencing disease and for dying earlier of those diseases,” says Dr. Amy Jo Kind, director of the Health Services and Care Research Program at the University of Wisconsin and an author of the analysis. The study, she says, indicates that “living in a highly disadvantaged neighborhood was linked to changes in brain structure and function characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”

The study involved 601 people who were part of two larger studies of Wisconsin residents and were followed for 10 years. The participants were 59 years old on average and had no thinking or memory problems, though nearly 70% had a family history of dementia. Using an Area Deprivation Index – a data-based measure used to assess neighborhoods and composed of 17 indicators across factors such as area poverty, employment and education – researchers divided the participants into those who lived in advantaged and disadvantaged neighborhoods.

After an initial MRI scan, participants were scanned every three to five years, a release on the study notes, with researchers measuring brain volume in regions tied to the development of Alzheimer’s. Participants also completed cognitive testing at two-year intervals to assess skills such as memory and brain-processing speed. Initially, there was no notable difference in brain volume between the two groups. But as the study progressed, researchers noticed significant differences, Kind says.
“In following these study volunteers over the subsequent 10 years, we found more brain shrinkage and decreases in brain function in those living in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods,” she said. “This was the first time that these types of longitudinal changes have been observed in relation to neighborhood context – a targetable and potentially modifiable factor.