Neighborhood poverty and Alzheimer’s disease

Contributed by Christian Salazar, PhD, UCI MIND Project Scientist

The Neighborhood Atlas: California – 2015 ADI State Rankings

While the link between poverty and disease is well documented in health disparities research, a practical way to connect poverty with biological processes has proven to be difficult. Nevertheless, recent advancements like the new publicly-available tool called “The Neighborhood Atlas” has made it easier for health disparities researchers to rank and geographically map neighborhoods according to socioeconomic disadvantage.

In a recent JAMA article, researchers linked The Neighborhood Atlas with repositories of brain tissue in a sample of 447 decedents from California and Wisconsin. They found that brain samples from decedents who were living in neighborhoods with greater disadvantage were more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease-related pathology than those that came from more affluent neighborhoods.  For every unit increase in neighborhood disadvantage, there was a corresponding 8% increase in the odds of having brain-related changes consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.

This study offers insight into a few related issues. First, it provides further evidence of the important role that social determinants may play on Alzheimer’s disease. Lifestyle factors like sleep, diet, physical activity and other medical conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes may at least partly explain some of this link. For example, individuals with fewer years of education tend to have more cardiovascular risk factors for Alzheimer’s, including being less physically active and having a higher risk of diabetes. Individuals living in poorer neighborhoods may also not be able to afford or have easy access to healthier food choices in their neighborhoods.  It is worth noting that the majority of decedents came from affluent neighborhoods. This strongly argues for the need to have more brain donations from disadvantaged neighborhoods to get better representation.

At UCI MIND, we encourage every participant in longitudinal studies to consider brain donation, and most do. As we increase the diversity of our research participants, this commitment to autopsy research must remain steadfast. Autopsy research is conducted in a sensitive manner that is compatible with nearly all religious practices. To learn more about autopsy research, visit the neuropathology page of the UCI MIND ADRC on this site.


About Christian Salazar, PhD:

Dr. Salazar’s research aims to understand the mechanisms that create health disparities across the lifespan in vulnerable populations, such as those who are socially disadvantaged and ethnoracial minorities who remain underrepresented in clinical research. His previous work has examined the potential link between oral infections and systemic diseases in ethnic minorities. As a recent addition to UCI MIND, Dr. Salazar’s role as project scientist involves fostering community-based partnerships with Asian and Hispanic/Latino organizations to improve participation of minority groups in Alzheimer’s disease research.