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Health Disparities Research

The health status of racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. has improved steadily over the last century. Despite such progress, disturbing disparities in health persist between majority and minority populations.  Demographic projections predict a substantial change in the racial and ethnic makeup of the older population, heightening the need to examine and reduce differences in health and life expectancy.    

Assessing Cognitive Differences. Census data indicate that in the United States, Latinos have become the largest ethnic minority group, and it is important to understand their health needs. However, it may be difficult to assess the incidence of age-related conditions, particularly cognitive impairment, in this population, as many relevant neuropsychological instruments are inappropriate for studies of older Latinos. Last year investigators found that one test, the Spanish English Verbal Learning Test, is a valid and sensitive measure of cognitive functioning. More recently, the researchers determined that there may be a similar pattern of cognitive declines for verbal memory and expressive language and findings on brain imaging that predict declines in everyday functioning in both Hispanic and Caucasian older adults. 

Racial Differences in Family Caregiving. Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer's CaregiverHealth (REACH) is a unique, two phase, multisite research program sponsoredby the NIA and the National Instituteon Nursing Research to carry out social and behavioral research on interventions designed to enhance family caregiving for AD and related disorders. Recently, REACH investigators published two companion papers addressing the issue of racial differences in family caregiving. In one analysis, African-American caregivers reported lower anxiety, better well-being, less use of psychotropic medications, more benign appraisals of stress and perceived benefits of caregiving, and greater religious coping and participation than white caregivers. In the other study, Latina caregivers reported lower appraisals of stress, greater perceived benefits of caregiving, and greater use of religious coping than white caregivers.  In addition, several differences emerged between less and more acculturated Latinas, emphasizing the need to examine heterogeneity among Latino caregivers.

The NIA is initiating a new project, “Promoting Research Participation Among Black and Hispanic Seniors.” Through data analyses, interviews of informed community members, and focus group discussions, this year-long project at the Yale-Older Americans Independence Center will identify characteristics of Black and Hispanic study participants and nonparticipants and develop recommended practices to improve and promote the recruitment and retention of Black and Hispanic older adults in aging-related research and studies of geriatric health conditions.