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Alzheimer disease (AD) is a huge and growing societal problem with upwards of 35% of the population over the age of 80 developing the disease. AD results in a loss of memory, the ability to make reasoned and sound decisions, and ultimately the inability to take care of oneself. AD has an impact not only on the sufferer, but their caretakers and loved ones, who must take on a costly and time-consuming burden of care. AD is found in virtually all racial and ethnic groups. Genetic influences on AD are substantial, and there has been a 30 year history of both success and failure. Mutations for rare early onset forms of the disease have been identified, but this information has not yet led to an effective treatment. Multiple common genetic variations have also been identified, and have led to new insights into the potential role of microglia cells in addition to neuronal cells in the brain. Despite intensive efforts, a significant portion of the genetic etiology of AD remains unknown and must be identified.
Knowledge of the relationship between depressive symptoms and cognition in older adults has primarily come from studies of clinically depressed, functionally impaired or cognitively impaired individuals, and in predominately White samples. Limited minority representation in depression research exposes the need to examine these associations in more ethnic/racially diverse populations. We sought to examine the relationship between depressive symptoms and cognition in a sample of non-demented older African Americans recruited from surrounding U.S. cities of New York, Greensboro, Miami, and Nashville (N=944). Depressive symptoms were evaluated with the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). Cognition was evaluated with a comprehensive neuropsychological battery. Test scores were summarized into attention, executive function, memory, language, and processing speed composites. Controlling for age, education, reading level, and sex, African American older adults who endorsed more symptoms obtained significantly lower scores on measures of memory, language, processing speed, and executive functioning. Further investigation of the causal pathway underlying this association, as well as potential mediators of the relationship between depressive symptoms and cognitive test performance among older African Americans, such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, may offer potential avenues for intervention. (JINS, 2014, 20, 1–8)
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