Living in Poverty May Increase Alzheimer’s Risk

Living in a poor neighborhood may increase the risk for the brain changes characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers report.

A study in JAMA Network Open included 427 people who had donated their brains to two research center brain banks. Scientists linked their addresses to the Area Deprivation Index, a 10-point scale that ranks neighborhoods by their level of socioeconomic disadvantage.

Almost 90 percent of the brains that were tested had some degree of Alzheimer’s disease changes — the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles commonly found on autopsy in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Those living in the poorest neighborhoods had the highest risk for these brain changes. For each one-point increase on the scale of socioeconomic deprivation, there was an 8 percent increase in the odds for Alzheimer’s brain pathology. The authors acknowledge that brains of people in the most disadvantaged areas were sparsely represented in the sample, which may be a characteristic of brain banks in general, and that their observational results may not be applicable in a larger and more diverse population.

“Putting tissue samples into socioeconomic context will allow us to better understand the socioeconomic mechanisms that may drive disease,” said the senior author, Dr. Amy J.H. Kind, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin. “Social factors may result in a whole host of human health disorders, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.”

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