Recent research reveals Black people’s brains are inclined to age faster than other races owing to pressures like racism fascinates black physicians but does not surprise them. However, experts said preventative care and lifestyle change could help delay some declines.
Researchers from Columbia University discovered racial and ethnic differences in the brain indicators of Alzheimer’s disease and related cases of dementia in the research reported last month in the journal JAMA Neurology. The researchers looked at MRI images from over 1,500 participants. They discovered that Black adults in their mid-50s were much more likely to have white-matter lesions in their brains, which are signs of cerebrovascular illness or cognitive impairment, than white or Hispanic persons in the same age range.
According to the authors, the accelerated brain aging observed in Black patients may have been influenced by “social influences.” The weathering hypothesis, which holds that “chronic exposure to social and economic adversity leads to the rapid decrease in physical health outcomes,” may contribute to the earlier onset of cerebrovascular illness in Black middle-aged individuals, according to the study.
Requests for interviews with JAMA Neurology have yet to receive a response.
The Brain Prophets Podcast presenter Dr. Philippe Douyon, a neurologist at the Inle Brain Fit Institute in New Jersey, expressed concern that some individuals would interpret the study to imply that Black people are inherently prone to Alzheimer’s.
He added that long-term stress from “racial or health inequities caused by racism” can increase a person’s risk of cognitive disorder. But he said, “I would not want people to assume that it has anything to do with the color of their skin.”
The University of Kentucky College of Medicine’s Dr Richard D. King, an associate professor of neurology, stated that many patients who experience a reduction in brain function don’t become aware of the issue until there has been “quite a bit of decline.”
He continued by saying that stress can worsen hypertension, increasing a person’s risk of cognitive impairment.
“Elevated blood pressure is a powerful risk factor for worsening cerebrovascular disease,” King said.
According to Donald Grant, a psychologist and executive director of Mindful Training Solutions, the stress of being Black in America can wear on the brain. This company creates diversity, equity, and inclusion programs for corporations.
How can the risk be minimized?
According to Douyon, there are many ways to slow down brain aging, including eating a healthy diet and getting enough rest.
“You can minimize your risk of dementia by eating healthy — more fruits and grains and vegetables and fewer animal fats and sweets in moderation,” he said. “You must ensure you get 6-8 hours of sleep every night.”
Sleep deprivation during a person’s middle years, from their 20s to their 50s, can increase the chances of dementia in their 60s, 70s, or 80s, according to Douyon. He emphasized the significance of getting deep sleep, also referred to as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.
“That’s when the brain clears out the toxins developing throughout the day. And when these toxins build up, they develop into plaques, the kind of plaques we see in individuals with Alzheimer’s,” he said.
King emphasized the significance of maintaining both physical and mental activity.
“Exercise is a big one,” he said, “and that’s something that we’re pretty good at least until we get older when we get kind of lazy. But physical activity is my best anti-aging formula.” He recommends spending 30 minutes per day doing “something that’s kind of vigorous and gets your heart rate up — gets you a little sweaty.”
As additional brain-training activities, King and Douyon advised board games, puzzles, and reading.
Grant also believes that learning how to manage stress is crucial.
Restorative yoga, which Grant said might assist in addressing stress and controlling blood pressure and brain function, is one possibility.
“Racism creates a unique stress that nobody else experiences,” he said. “We must start building stress relief techniques in school that specifically speak to race-based stress and trauma. This type of yoga is one of them.”
According to King, “the study certainly implies that you might see some change in that if we were able to do things like bridge the socioeconomic inequalities, create more opportunities and lower the number of microaggressions Black people suffer.”
He continued by saying that diabetes and high blood pressure, common in Black communities, maybe “extremely manageable” with the proper medical attention.
What is measured is managed, according to King. “Therefore, you must measure it. You must visit your family physician to check your blood pressure and blood sugar levels. You also need to take your medications regularly.