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2021 Alzheimer's Association Research Grant (AARG)

Neighborhood segregation and longitudinal change in brain health measures

How may neighborhood racial segregation impact brain changes in the long term in older adults?

Lilah Besser, Ph.D.
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, FL - United States


According to the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, older Blacks/African Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia than older whites. Additionally, according to the report, older blacks/African Americans may be more likely to have missed diagnoses, than older whites. Past studies show racial segregation may be one of the factors that may impact cognition in Blacks/African Americans. However, the impact of neighborhood racial segregation on cognitive decline over time in older adults has not yet been studied in detail.

Research Plan

For their study, Dr. Lilah Besser and colleagues will leverage cognitive test datasets and brain scan data from older adults at the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Using this information, Dr. Besser’s team will study the potential association between neighborhood racial segregation and long-term changes in cognition and brain changes using brain scans in older Black/African American and white adults. Further, the researchers will study whether associations between segregation and brain changes may be impacted by neighborhood’s socioeconomic status and neighborhood access to resources (such as park space, churches and library and community center etc. among others).

Based on their findings, Dr. Besser’s team will conduct neighborhood-focus groups, with older adults and key community stakeholders to understand perceptions of neighborhood segregation and how segregation may impact access to opportunities, resources and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementia.


The study findings may provide insights into whether racial disparities in risk factors for dementia may be associated with neighborhood racial segregation. The results may inform policymakers to develop future neighborhood interventions to prevent the increase in risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia among racial and ethnic minorities in the United States.

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