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2022 Alzheimer's Association Clinical Scientist Fellowship to Promote Diversity (AACSF-D)

Association Between Biomarkers of Chronic Stress and Cognition in Latinos

How does life-long exposure to stress impact the brain in Hispanic individuals?

Paula Aduen, Ph.D.
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, MA - United States


According to the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures, older non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanic Americans are disproportionately more likely than older Whites to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  Therefore, it is important to study the factors that impact risk of later life memory changes in older non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanic Americans before symptoms become evident.

Studies have shown that life-long exposure to stress is linked to declines in cognition and an increased risk for dementia. This chronic stress is more prevalent among Hispanic populations than White populations. Research has found that stress can lead to damage to the brain’s structure and function over time. Stress can also reduce the ability for cells from different brain regions to communicate with one another. However, these links have not been sufficiently studied in Hispanic populations. 

Research Plan

Dr. Aduen and colleagues will investigate the impact of chronic stress on brain function in Hispanics. They will recruit 40 cognitively unimpaired individuals: 20 Hispanic individuals and 20 non-Hispanic individuals. First, the researchers will compare chronic stress levels in their participant groups by measuring levels of cortisol from both hair and nail samples. Cortisol is a hormone that becomes elevated in instances of increased stress and it accumulates in the hair and nails over time. Dr. Aduen’s team will examine whether higher hair and nail cortisol levels are associated with greater levels of chronic stress. Next, they will investigate how chronic stress may impact the brain differently in Hispanic and non-Hispanic individuals. They will study the brain scans of these individuals and evaluate the impact of chronic stress on (1) brain size and structure and (2) the function of brain networks. They will also explore how life-long stress may hinder certain types of memory, such as the ability to remember words or task-related information.


If successful, this project could help increase understanding of how stress may promote dementia risk differently in different communities. It could also lead to novel methods for detecting dementia at an early stage.

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