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Perceived Discrimination, Nativity, and Cognitive Performance in a Multi-ethnic Study of Older Adults: Findings from the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences (KHANDLE) Study

Despite growing research on the association between discrimination and disparities in cognitive aging, an evidence gap remains on how the association varies by racial/ethnic group. This study evaluates the associations of experiences of discrimination with cognitive function and whether these associations varied by race/ethnicity and nativity. Using the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences (KHANDLE) cohort (N = 1 712) with approximately equal groups of Black, White, Latino, and Asian community-dwelling older adults aged 65 years and older, we evaluated the associations between self-reported experiences of everyday and major lifetime discrimination with overall cognitive performance and domain-specific cognition (verbal episodic memory, semantic memory, and executive functioning) across race/ethnicity and nativity. Linear regression models examined the cross-sectional association between self-reported experiences of everyday and major lifetime discrimination with z-standardized coefficients for cognition. We tested for effect modification by race and nativity. All models controlled for age, sex, and education. Among KHANDLE participants (mean age: 76 years; SD: 6.8), everyday discrimination was not associated with cognitive scores. Major lifetime discrimination was associated with better average cognitive scores among Black participants but not among other racial/ethnic groups. Major lifetime discrimination was associated with better average cognitive scores among U.S.-born but not among non-U.S.-born individuals. Our findings do not imply that discrimination improves cognition, but rather suggest that future research should include more detailed measures on discrimination and unfair treatment that could help disentangle the extent to which relationships are causal or reflect some other underlying factor.

Authors: Meza, Erika; Peterson, Rachel; Gilsanz, Paola; George, Kristen M; Miles, Sunita J; Eng, Chloe W; Mungas, Dan M; Mayeda, Elizabeth Rose; Glymour, M Maria; Whitmer, Rachel A

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2022 02 03;77(2):e65-e73.

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