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The link was made by two US studies presented at a major conference on Alzheimer’s.
It found those who experienced racial discrimination throughout their life had a poorer ability to recall words compared to those who faced little to no prejudice.
But experts said more research is needed to determine whether this could increase the risk of dementia.
The first study, from Columbia University in New York, involved 942 people. It included 50 percent who were Latin Americans, 23 percent black and 19 percent white.
Researchers found those who had suffered from racism scored lower on memory tests, with the strongest association for black participants.
Structural racism was particularly associated with a type of long-term memory that involves recollection of events.
The second study, from the University of California, looked at experiences of discrimination among 445 Asian, black, Latino, white and multi-racial participants aged over 90.
Those who had faced prejudice struggled more with language, although the rate of cognitive decline did not change between groups of participants.
Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “What’s shocking about these findings is that racism and discrimination doesn’t just have an immediate impact on people from ethnic minority communities.”
“But it can also lead to long-lasting effects on brain health, increasing the chance of memory problems developing later in life. Of the 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK, 25,000 are from ethnic minority communities.”
“So while these are American studies, it’s clear more also needs to be done to support these communities in the UK.”
Dr Oakley claimed that far too often the support services were not culturally aware and people are left feeling isolated.
He added: “There is an urgent need for research and investment into exploring the experiences of ethnic minority communities, to ensure the development of more culturally appropriate services and resources.”
“But for research like this to happen, the Government must commit to their promise of doubling dementia research funding.”
Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said larger studies were needed to paint a clear picture of how racism may affect dementia risk.
She added: “The study followed people up for only around a year so it doesn’t draw conclusions about someone’s risk of subsequently developing dementia.”
“A person’s dementia risk is a mixture of age, genetics and lifestyle factors. Although latest estimates find that 40 percent of all such cases could be prevented, research is constantly uncovering more about dementia.”
“There is clearly much to do here but it’s great to see research like this being presented so there can be an open discussion about these issues.”
The findings were put forward at this week’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego, California.
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