Ann Nguyen receives grant to study risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias among older Black adults

Image of Ann W. Nguyen, PhD

Ann Nguyen, assistant professor, received a new grant funded by the Research Centers Collaborative Network from a parent grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIH). This is a two-year grant, totaling $50,000. She is the principal investigator on the grant, alongside co-principal investigator Harry Taylor from the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto.

About the research

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) among older Black adults is two to three times greater than that of white older adults. A better understanding of modifiable risk factors for ADRD among Black adults is imperative for eliminating this racial disparity. Social disconnection, which encompasses both social isolation and loneliness, is an important risk factor for dementia. This is a particularly important risk factor for older Black adults, as this group is exposed to more factors that increase their risk for social disconnection, such as disadvantaged neighborhood environments. Living in disadvantaged environments is linked to both increased risk for social disconnection and cognitive decline. Yet research on these modifiable determinants of dementia, specifically among Black Americans, is severely limited. The goal of the proposed project is to build on our expertise in social relational determinants of health to characterize social disconnection among Black Americans in mid- and late-life and determine the role of neighborhood characteristics in the relationship between trajectories of social disconnection and trajectories of cognitive decline in this population.

To achieve these goals, Nguyen and Taylor will use data from non-Latino Black participants from the 2006-2016 waves of the Health and Retirement Study, a national panel study of adults aged 51+ (N=1258). 

This study was innovative in that it will be the first study, to the researchers’ knowledge, to investigate the interactive effects of neighborhood characteristics and social disconnection trajectories specifically among middle-aged and older Black adults. They expect the key findings to illuminate modifiable social determinants of cognitive impairment and dementia in this population. This work will be significant because it is expected to have broad translational importance in the prevention of cognitive decline and elimination of the disparity in dementia between Black and white Americans.

This story appeared in The Daily on March 10, 2023.