Could your neighborhood have an impact on your risk for Alzheimer’s disease? A study recently reported in the JAMA Network Open showed an association between people living in poorer neighborhoods and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes at death.
“We know that the conditions in which we work, live and play influence our health and well-being,” explained Amy Kind, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin Social of Medicine and Public Health. “These are referred to as social determinants of health and include housing quality, income, education and employment. They’ve been a cornerstone of research for a variety of health conditions including heart disease and cancer.”
Dr. Kind is one of the authors of this latest research to understand how social determinants of health impact our risk for Alzheimer’s. The initial study included 447 people who donated their brains to two research center brain banks. Researchers looked at these social factors with the use of the Area Deprivation Index, a measure of the social determinants of health in a given neighborhood. It was first created by the US Health Resources and Services Administration in the 1980’s and refined by Dr. Kind and her team for the modern era. It is similar to neighborhood data used in countries such as Sweden and New Zealand to guide health policy.
The Area Deprivation Index is available to anyone who wants to use it through the Neighborhood Atlas®, a free on-line tool curated by Kind and her team. The Atlas allows for customized mapping and visualization of these neighborhood metrics across the United States and includes a 69 million zip code linkage for those interested in using these data for research.
The study found that people living in the poorest neighborhoods had the highest risk for brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease. “The next step is to conduct more research to better understand this association,” said Dr. Kind, Care Research Core Leader at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Wisconsin.
Dr. Kind sees this research as a marriage between basic brain science and health policy. The results of this work can help identify where and what resources are needed most in different neighborhoods.
“It’s extremely exciting to be able to assess risk factors for brain health and then craft public policy to help reduce the gaps,” said Dr. Kind. “It allows us to look at a wide array of social and structural factors that could trigger health problems and work to improve them.”
To explore other Alzheimer’s-focused studies check out our Find-a-Study Page.