Dementia remains a frightening and mysterious symptom of a range of illnesses.
As researchers discover new physical causes — from damage to the brain’s nerve cells or blood supply to side effects of medication or infection — they’re also revealing new ways social interactions and isolation can affect cognition.
According to research from the University of California, San Francisco, LGBT Americans are almost 30% more likely to suffer memory loss and confusion than people who are heterosexual and identify with their birth sex. The findings were presented this month at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles.
Data taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 from 44,403 adults were analyzed. About 3% identified as belonging to sexual and/or gender minorities, and about 14% of that group reported suffering progressive memory loss.
Of the remaining 97% of those surveyed, only 10% reported those dementia symptoms.
It’s enough of a link to make experts in the field take notice and consider different causes. Members of the LGBT community do not share genetic or behavioral traits; however, many endure similar experiences, such as social isolation from their families.
Experts say that common thread, along with all the anxiety that come along with it, could be a critical catalyst for dementia.
“While we do not yet know for certain why sexual- or gender-minority individuals had higher subjective cognitive decline, we believe it may be due to higher rates of depression, inability to work, high stress, and a lack of regular access to healthcare,” a researcher on the study, Jason Flatt, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a press release.
More focused tests are underway. Scientists are optimistic that new information will complement these findings as well as an earlier batch of data derived from a 2018 study into the dementia prevalence among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults who are at least 65.
“It is critical that more opportunities exist for people in these communities to receive regular evaluation for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease,” Flatt said. “There is also a need for greater education on Alzheimer’s risk, signs and symptoms, and training of health care providers to ensure inclusive and welcoming care for LGBTQ+ populations.”