Sexual Minorities May Face Higher Dementia Risk Later in Life, Study Finds

A study has found that sexual minorities have an elevated risk of cognitive impairment.

  • Researchers examined the cognitive health disparities between sexual minority and heterosexual populations.
  • They found that “the prevalence of cognitive impairment is significantly higher among sexual minority” populations. 
  • The study authors believe that it is due to “prejudice and discrimination” that LGB adults may face poor mental health and cognitive impairment.

A study published in The Gerontologist explained that LGB older adults have a higher risk of cognitive impairment than heterosexual people due to discrimination and prejudice.

In the abstract of the paper, the Michigan State Researchers explained that the study aimed to “examine the disparity in cognitive impairment by sexual orientation and the potential mechanisms producing this disparity.” The researchers’ interest in this study was further fueled by the fact that dementia and cognitive impairment have become growing public health concerns in America. In the paper, the authors explain that “minority sexual orientations […] are linked to multiple known risk factors for dementia, including elevated stress, social isolation, and poorer mental and physical health outcomes due to prejudice and discrimination.”

Hui Liu, co-author of the study and professor of sociology at Michigan State University, commented on the research.

While the public perception of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people is largely related to young communities, LGB older adults represent an understudied disadvantaged group.

Results show that LGB older adults are twice as likely to have cognitive impairment.

In the paper, the authors noted that the survey data revealed that “When sociodemographic covariates were controlled, older LGB adults experienced higher odds of MCI [mild cognitive impairment] or early dementia than their heterosexual counterparts.” According to Very Well Mind, Liu commented on these findings and said that “This difference is partially explained by depression: LGB older people suffer higher levels of depression, likely due to minority stress, than heterosexual older people; and depression is a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia.”

What is minority stress?

Minority stress refers to high levels of additional stress faced by marginalized groups. The most common causes of minority stress are interpersonal prejudice and discrimination. Older LGB adults did not have access to the protection and rights they deserved; today, LGBTQ+ people can get married and receive protection against (some forms of) discrimination. Commenting on the older generations, Benjamin Shepherd Ph.D. said, “They carry with them a lot of financial, social, and emotional disadvantages […] For example, they had to be in hiding, because same-sex sexual activity was illegal until 2003 … and a lot of them couldn’t even get married.” Shepherd further explained:

Being a sexual and gender minority, it’s a concealable stigmatized identity, so people have the choice of disclosing or not. That process of having to decide which situations are safe enough to disclose—that’s a cognitively taxing process and contributes to an added burden.

This study proves the importance of studying minority stressors and working to eliminate them. Ning Hsieh’s claim supports this idea as she claims, “It’s also important for the public to acknowledge that prejudice and discrimination have lasting health impacts on LGB individuals and create burdens on our healthcare system.” Hsieh stresses that “the only fundamental solution is to eliminate stigma related to minority sexual orientation.”

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