Black Americans are twice as likely as White Americans to have Alzheimer’s disease (AD) independent of genetic risk. Despite this knowledge, little is known about whether and how chronic experiences of racism contribute to medial temporal hippocampal (MTH) and prefrontal-executive system integrity, systems that exhibit profound neurodegeneration in AD. Although comorbid illnesses and socioeconomic status contribute to AD health disparity, disparities remain. This highlights a critical unmet need for understanding social and societal contributors to disparities in brain health. Since perceived racism contributes to racial health disparities in cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, which are also risk factors in AD, racism burden should have a significant impact also on the racial health disparity in AD.

In support of this, our preliminary data show that older Black women who reported greater experiences of racism also were more likely to report subjective memory decline several years later compared to older Black women who reported fewer experiences of racism. Our preliminary data also show that greater perceived social discrimination in a diverse sample of older adults is associated with poorer memory and lower amygdala and hippocampus volumes, two brain areas that are a part of the MTH system. Despite this knowledge, the cumulative impact of racism burden on neurocognitive health in Black seniors remains unknown. Racial disparities in Alzheimer’s disease, neuropsychological test performance, and cardiovascular disease risk are well-known, however, how these factors are related to each other and their social and societal determinants are not well understood. We have currently open positions to support this research program and are open for recruitment to participate in this study.


The objective of this research project is to investigate the impact of racism burden on brain health in the MTH-memory and prefrontal-executive systems in Black older adults (65+ years of age) and to examine potentially underlying biological mechanisms. In this project, we work closely with an interdisciplinary team of co-investigators and community stakeholders to understand the relationship between racism burden and neurocognitive integrity. This work is supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), NIH.