Volume 16, Issue S10 e045354
PUBLIC HEALTH
Free Access

Timing of school desegregation experience and late-life cognition in the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR) cohort

Epidemiology / Risk and protective factors in MCI and dementia

Rachel Peterson

Corresponding Author

Rachel Peterson

University of California Davis, Davis, CA, USA

Correspondence

Rachel Peterson, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, USA.

Email: [email protected]

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Kristen M. George

Kristen M. George

University of California Davis, Davis, CA, USA

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Lisa L. Barnes

Lisa L. Barnes

Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Chicago, IL, USA

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Paola Gilsanz

Paola Gilsanz

Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, Oakland, CA, USA

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Elizabeth Rose Mayeda

Elizabeth Rose Mayeda

University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health, Los Angeles, CA, USA

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M Maria Glymour

M Maria Glymour

University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA

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Dan M Mungas

Dan M Mungas

University of California, Davis, Sacramento, CA, USA

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Rachel A. Whitmer

Rachel A. Whitmer

University of California, Davis, Sacramento, CA, USA

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First published: 07 December 2020
Citations: 1

Abstract

Background

Prior studies suggest segregated school experiences are associated with poorer late-life cognition among African Americans. However, less is known about how the timing of school desegregation in the individual’s lifecourse or historically is associated with cognition for younger cohorts.

Method

The Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR) is a cohort of community-dwelling Kaiser Permanente members residing in the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento valley. The study has enrolled 722 African Americans (half ages 50-64, half 65+) and aims to understand lifecourse processes that contribute to cognitive aging disparities. Experiences of segregation were self-reported and modeled three ways: 1) having attended only segregated schools vs. only integrated; 2) by life stage when first transitioned to a desegregated school (i.e. 1st-6th, 7th-9th or 10th-12th grades); and 3) the historical timing of school desegregation relative to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision mandating school integration (many districts were reluctant to integrate in a timely manner). Executive function, semantic memory and verbal memory measured with the Spanish and English Neuropsychological Assessment Scales (SENAS) were z-standardized and averaged for overall cognition. Linear regression was used for analysis; models controlled for age, gender, and education.

Result

Participant mean age was 68 (8.7) and 69% were female. Compared with participants who only attended integrated schools (ref.; n=438), those who only attended segregated schools (n=145) had significantly lower overall cognition, executive function and semantic memory (see table). Those who transitioned from segregated to integrated schools between 7th and 9th grade (n=51) had worse executive function and semantic memory than those who only attended integrated schools; we did not observe significant associations for those who transitioned to integrated schools in 1st-6th grades (n=44), or 10th-12th grades (n=43). We observed no differences in cognition by historical timing of desegregation.

Conclusion

Older African Americans who attended only segregated schools or experienced desegregation in 7th-9th grades had worse later-life cognitive test scores than those who attended racially integrated schools. Our findings suggest that only attending segregated schools and the timing of school desegregation in the lifecourse may have implications for understanding cognitive aging among African Americans.

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