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2022 Alzheimer's Association Research Grant to Promote Diversity (AARG-D)

The role of community-level policing on the health for Black older adults

Can exposure to harmful events involving the police impact dementia risk in Black Americans?

Paris Adkins-Jackson, Ph.D., MPH
Columbia University
New York, NY - United States


According to the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, Black Americans are one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than White Americans. This higher prevalence may be due, in part, to structural racism experienced by Black individuals in the United States. Structural racism can be described as involving the health and societal disparities that are rooted in the history of discrimination against Black individuals and other people of color in the United States, not only during interpersonal interactions, but also as enshrined in the rules, practices, and policies of financial systems,, laws, medical systems and other institutions. Though scientists remain uncertain exactly how structural racism impacts Alzheimer’s risk, exposure to adverse events involving the police may play a role. 

Research Plan

Dr. Paris Adkins-Jackson and colleagues will explore how life-long exposure to adverse community policing may damage brain health over time in middle-aged and older Black adults. The researchers will examine medical data for nearly 4,000 Black individuals from the Health and Retirement Study, a large and diverse study of aging. They will also examine local historical records to determine how many “police-involved  lynchings” of Black individuals (carried out between 1940 and 1968) and “police-involved killings” of Black individuals (carried out between 1996 and 2016) each participant may have been exposed to at different stages of life. Using this data, the investigators will identify links between early-life exposure to police-involved events and the risk of being diagnosed with a memory-related brain disease in older age. The team will then determine the types of exposure and at what points in life may have the greater impact on brain health. 


Results from this study will shed new light on how structural racism may contribute to risk of developing dementia in U.S. Black communities. They may also promote novel health and public policy strategies aimed at preventing dementia in these communities.

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