A $3.4 million grant is set to fund a groundbreaking study aimed at exploring the relationship between discrimination, social support and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias among older Asian Americans.
About the project: The National Institute on Aging is providing the grant to the research led by epidemiology and biostatistics associate professor Thu Nguyen and her team at the University of Maryland, in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco professor Van Ta Park, whose primary research interest is in racial and ethnic minority health and healthcare disparities.
The project, titled “Asian Americans & Racism: Individual and Structural Experiences (ARISE),” will involve a cohort of 500 Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese Americans. The grant will sustain the project for one year.
How it works: The research will assess daily experiences of individual and structural discrimination through surveys in participants’ native languages and through the collection of blood samples and basic health information. Using these data will allow researchers to examine changes in cognitive performance and biomarker levels associated with Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
The researchers will also investigate how support from families and religious communities, coupled with risk factors like depression, can either mitigate or exacerbate the effects of discrimination. To do this, the project will implement innovative machine learning models to gauge the racial climate in participants’ neighborhoods, examining factors such as sentiment in social media posts referencing minority groups.
Why it matters: According to a 2021 study, 20% of Asian Americans cited discrimination as a barrier to receiving quality Alzheimer’s care in the U.S. Hailing from over 50 countries and speaking over 100 languages, the community has diverse cultural norms that can affect how they handle life-changing conditions like Alzheimer’s.
While the Asian American community constitutes 22.4 million individuals in the U.S. (as of 2019), they represent less than 3% of participants in national Alzheimer’s research databases, revealing a significant underrepresentation in critical studies.
Comprehensive approach: According to Nguyen, in addition to having a better understanding of Alzheimer’s risks among older Asian Americans, the project also aims to contribute to the diversification of Alzheimer’s research and the improvement of health disparities related to aging within diverse populations.
“With this study, we’re looking at participants’ individual, social and demographic characteristics; the physical environment; and neighborhood socioeconomic status, as well as measures of prejudice where they reside,” Nguyen said. “It’s much more comprehensive than what is usually assessed.”