Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia and is characterize by cognitive impairment or impaired cognitive function. It affects approximately 5.4 million people and almost half of people over the age 85 years in the United States. AD is currently the 6th leading cause of death in the USA. A growing body of research has shown the association between AD characterized by impaired cognitive function and older adults’ physical and mental health as well as racial disparity of prevalence of AD in the USA. However, there is less research on explaining the association between AD and older adults’ physical and mental health based on racial differences. The purpose of this study is to explain how physical and mental health in late life are associated with cognitive function and if this association is different among blacks and whites.
We used data from the National Social Life and Aging Project (NSHAP) Wave 3. NSHAP is a longitudinal national study of health and aging (including physical and bio measures) that samples 4777 participants. We limited the definition of AD to cognitive performance using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) scale as our outcome variable. The MoCA is an 18-itemed scale used to measure the cognitive function of older adults. The scale covers six domains of cognitive function including orientation, executive function, visuospatial skills, memory, attention and language. Participants’ self-rated physical health and Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CESD) 8-itemed scale were used to measure physical and mental health respectively in this study as our main predictor variables. controlling for demographics, alcohol and cigarette consumption. The paper utilized multiple regression to explore the associations of cognitive performance with physical and mental health by race (blacks and whites), controlling for sociodemographic characteristics. We add interaction terms.
Findings from this paper revealed that physical and mental health of older adults are associated with their cognitive function when we control for demographics, alcohol and cigarette consumption. Our model accounted for 26% of the variation in cognitive function R2= .260, p<.01. When we set race (blacks & whites) as a moderating variable to physical and mental health, regression results came out insignificant (Physical health B=-.175, p>.05; Mental health B=.030, p>.05) which suggest that the association of cognitive function with older adults’ physical and mental health are not different for blacks and whites.
Racial minorities have been associated with high prevalence of mental and health issues as well as prevalence of AD. However, findings of the current paper explain how the association between AD and older adults’ physical and mental health is similar among blacks and whites in the United States. This suggest that racial disparity of AD goes beyond physical and mental health of older adults. As such, AD interventions (those geared towards improving cognitive functioning or slowing down progression of cognitive impairment) which includes physical and mental health components are recommended to focus on all older adults who have or at risk of AD regardless of their race.