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2023 Alzheimer's Association Research Fellowship to Promote Diversity (AARF-D)

Sleep and AD Risk Among Older African Americans

Could inadequate sleep increase the likelihood of Black Americans developing Alzheimer's more than White individuals?

Darlingtina Esiaka, Ph.D.
Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences
Newark, NJ - United States


According to studies mentioned in the 2023 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, older Black adults are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other dementias as older White Americans. These findings suggest that certain health factors may impact the brain differently in Blacks and Whites. One such factor is poor sleep, which research has identified as an early indicator of dementia risk – an indicator that occurs long before memory loss and other cognitive problems become evident. Studies also show that, compared with Whites, Black Americans consistently report more problems with sleep, including shorter sleep duration, fragmented sleep and lighter sleep. Scientists, therefore, will need to learn more about how poor sleep impacts brain function and dementia risk in Black Americans. Researchers must also clarify the many factors, including socioeconomic and lifestyle factors, that contribute to poor sleep and sleep-related brain disease. 

Research Plan

Dr. Darlingtina Esiaka and colleagues will work  to investigate the links between poor sleep and dementia risk in Black Americans. They will recruit 80 Black individuals (40 male and 40 female) aged 55 and older. The researchers will use a home-based electroencephalography (EEG) system to monitor brain activity during sleep. They will also assess the individual's overall health, cognitive ability, exposure to social determinants of health (such as poor housing or discrimination), and brain structure and function. Using results from these assessments, Dr. Esiaka and team will examine what properties of sleep (including sleep duration and sleep quality) may lead to loss of brain cell communication and other factors related to dementia. They will also determine how social determinants of health and negative lifestyle factors (such as smoking, drinking or obesity) play a role in how sleep problems promote dementia risk in Black Americans – and how these relationships may differ in men and women.  


Results from this project could shed new light on why dementia prevalence differs in different population groups. They could also lead to novel, cost-effective, community-based strategies for promoting both sleep and brain health in Black Americans.

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