Early-Life Circumstances and Racial Disparities in Cognition Among Older Adults in the US.

TitleEarly-Life Circumstances and Racial Disparities in Cognition Among Older Adults in the US.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of PublicationForthcoming
AuthorsLin, Z, Ye, J, Allore, H, Gill, TM, Chen, X
JournalJAMA Internal Medicine
ISSN Number2168-6114
KeywordsCognition, Older Adults, Racial Disparities, US
Abstract

IMPORTANCE: Given the critical role of neurocognitive development in early life, understanding the association between early-life circumstances and racial disparities in cognition has important implications.

OBJECTIVE: To assess whether racial differences in early-life circumstances are collectively and individually associated with racial disparities in late-life cognition among older adults in the US.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This cross-sectional study used comprehensive life history data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative survey of US adults 50 years or older. Data analyses were performed from August 9, 2022, to January 20, 2024.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Racial differences in early-life circumstances and racial disparities in late-life cognition were investigated using a Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition regression model. Cognitive outcomes, including cognitive score and cognitive impairment, were evaluated using the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status. Early-life educational experiences were primary explanatory variables; early-life cohort, regional, financial, health, trauma, family relationship factors, and educational attainment were additional explanatory variables; demographic and genetic factors were covariates.

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p>RESULTS: The study sample comprised 9015 participants; 1634 non-Hispanic Black (hereafter, Black) individuals (18.1%) and 7381 non-Hispanic White (hereafter, White) individuals (81.9%). Among Black participants, the mean (SD) age was 69.2 (9.2) years and 1094 (67.0%) were women. Among White participants, the mean (SD) age was 73.2 (10.1) years and 4410 (59.7%) were women. Cognitive scores (scale, 0-27) were significantly lower among Black participants (13.5 [95% CI, 13.3-13.7] points) than among White participants (15.8 [95% CI, 15.7-15.9] points), while the prevalence of cognitive impairment (cognitive score <12) was significantly higher among Black participants (33.6 [95% CI, 31.3-35.9] percentage points [ppt]) than among White participants (16.4 [95% CI, 15.6-17.2] ppt). Substantial racial differences were observed in early-life circumstances. Overall, differences in early-life circumstances were associated with 61.5% of the racial disparities in cognitive score (1.4 [95% CI, 0.88-2.0] points), and 82.3% of the racial disparities in cognitive impairment (14.2 [95% CI, 8.8-19.5] ppt), respectively. In multivariable analyses, early-life educational experiences were associated with 35.2% of the disparities in cognitive score and 48.6% in cognitive impairment. Notably, school racial segregation (all segregated schooling before college) was associated with 28.8% to 39.7% of the racial disparities in cognition. These findings were consistent in a series of sensitivity analyses.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: The findings of this cross-sectional study suggest that less favorable early-life circumstances are associated with clinically meaningful racial disparities in late-life cognition. Policies that improve educational equity have the potential to reduce racial disparities in cognition in older ages. Clinicians may leverage early-life circumstances to promote the screening, prevention, and interventions of cognitive impairment more efficiently, thereby promoting health equity.

DOI10.1001/jamainternmed.2024.1132
Citation Key14000
PubMed ID38805197
PubMed Central IDPMC11134283