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2019 Alzheimer's Association Research Fellowship (AARF)

Social Disparities in Brain Aging: the Role of Environment and Nutrition

Could environment and nutrition shape the social disparities in brain aging in older women?

Diana Younan, Ph.D.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA - United States


Two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women- the reasons for why more women than men are being investigated today. One of the potential contributing differences between men and women could be environmental factors. Past studies have shown that environmental factors such as high levels of outdoor air pollution may be associated to increased cognitive decline, while some dietary habits and nutrients could reduce these effects.
Dr. Diana Younan and colleagues will investigate the interplay of social, environmental, nutritional and sex-differences to increased Alzheimer’s risk and brain aging.

Research Plan

For the current study, Dr. Younan and her team will use data from Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, a large, geographically-diverse, nationwide cohort of women aged 65-80 years, with annual tests on Alzheimer’s that spans two decades (1996-2016) including two brain scans from 2005-2006 and 2010-2011. Using statistical modeling techniques, the researchers will analyze the datasets to probe into discovering evidence for social disparities (such as low education attainment and lower income) in brain aging of older women. Additionally, Dr. Younan plans to examine the effect of interplay between environmental (such as air quality), social and nutritional factors in cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s risk. Finally, the researchers are interested in identifying the biological pathways that may be linked to environmental and nutritional factors and influence brain aging in older women.


Dr. Younan and her team’s study results—leveraging large existing datasets from several National Institutes of Health-funded studies—could inform future intervention strategies to reduce social disparities in brain aging among older women.

This project was made possible by the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.  

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