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UCSF Receives Six-Figure Grant to Investigate Dementia in LGBTQ Elders

Rainbows of Aging is Delving Deeper Into Dementia in Gay Elders

The first-of-its-kind study, led by Dr. Jason Flatt, seeks to find risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and related dementia.

Rainbows of Aging -- a study of LGBTQ elders' health concerns from the University of California, San Francisco -- has received a grant of $142,974 from the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

The grant will help further research of dementia in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender elders, as noted in the project's information page in the NIH database.

"By 2030, there will be nearly six million sexual and gender minority (SGM) older adults aged 60 and older in the U.S. who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender," the study's abstract noted. "Approximately 350,000 SGM older adults in the U.S. currently have Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (ADRD), with projections nearing one million by 2030. Yet, almost nothing is known about the prevalence or risk of ADRD in SGM older adults without HIV/AIDS."

The first-of-its-kind, large-scale study, helmed by Dr. Jason Flatt, aims to fill this gap in research. The project will collect data from a population-based sample of LGBTQ elders in order to assess their risk for dementia, as compared to their straight peers. It will also determine risk and protective factors for dementia. According to the NIH database, the project began in August and has an end date of June 2023.

"Given that nothing is currently known about ADRD risk in this population, this work is necessary to promote early detection; to develop culturally relevant screenings and targeted preventative interventions to decrease ADRD risk in SGM older adults; and to improve the care and quality of life of this vulnerable and understudied population," the abstract concluded.

The new study expands on findings presented by UCSF researchers earlier this summer at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Chicago. That study examined the prevalence of dementia among 3,718 sexual minority adults age 60 and older who participated in the Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment, and Health, with dementia diagnoses collected from medical records.

Over nine years of follow-up, the researchers found the prevalence of dementia in this population to be 7.4 percent. That's actually slightly lower than the prevalence for the general population age 65 and up -- 10 percent, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

The lower prevalence is a little surprising given that LGB adults have a higher rate of some conditions thought to contribute to dementia, such as depression and cardiovascular disease. However, "this is very preliminary research," Rebecca Edelmayer, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer's Association, told The Advocate in August.

The new study will also examine the risk of dementia for transgender elders -- a group that was not included in the previous report.

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