Here’s Another Effect of Racism: Black Americans’ Brains Age Faster
Photo by National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

Here’s Another Effect of Racism: Black Americans’ Brains Age Faster

A recent study finds racism can lead to early Alzheimer's

The old axiom is true: Black don’t crack. The levels of collagen and melanin in our skin reduces signs of aging and minimizes the effects of UV rays (you should still wear sunscreen). The positives are all on the veneer though. On the inside, we aren’t fairing as well. A new study has found Black adults’ brains age quicker than our white and Latinx counterparts. Black adults are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.

According to JAMA Neurology, who conducted the study, the reasons for this are “material hardship, interpersonal discrimination, institutional racism, residential segregation, and pollution.” Basically, when you’ve spent decades dealing with oppression, it deteriorates your brain.

In order to conduct the study, doctors analyzed MRI scans of nearly 1,500 participants from two racially and ethnically diverse cohorts. The scans were used to determine cortical thickness and white matter hyperintensity, which are key indicators of neurodegeneration. Indira C. Turney, a cognitive neuroscientist and the paper’s lead author, told STAT the “brains of Black participants in mid-life looked like the brains of older adults.” Their research found among older participants who were past middle age, the results were more equal, likely a sign that those who face the effects are subject to shorter lifespans.

There are ways one can attempt to stave off Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Cardiovascular disease increases the risk, according to medical professionals. So improving cardiovascular health by cutting out smoking, drinking less alcohol, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy blood pressure are great ideas.

There’s no shortage of ways racism impacts the quality of life and health of Black folks. We have a higher infant mortality rate. We are under-treated for pain when we go to the doctor. Our life expectancy is shorter. There have been other studies that put it blankly—structural racism remains a fundamental cause of persistent health disparities in the United States of America.