A study by Michigan State University has found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are more vulnerable to developing dementia than their heterosexual peers.
Researchers examined 3,500 LGB and heterosexual adults’ cognitive skills, and found that older LGB adults are more likely to present signs of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia, Medical Xpress reports.
The only difference between LGB adults and heterosexual adults that researchers could identify as the source of the discrepancy was higher rates of depression among gay and bisexual people.
Other factors, such as higher rates of alcohol consumption or smoking, or reduced social connections, were not determined to be as influential on cognitive impairment, researchers said.
“Our study speaks to the unaddressed questions about whether members the LGB community are more likely to develop cognitive impairment at older ages and, if so, what factors contribute to their poorer cognitive health, ” Ning Hsieh, an assistant professor of sociology at MSU and lead author of the study, told Medical Xpress.
She continued: “We knew that stress and depression are risk factors for many chronic health problems, including cognitive impairment, in later life. LGB people experience more stressful events and have higher rates of depression compared to their heterosexual counterparts.”
Hsieh reiterated that depression “may be one of the important underlying factors leading to cognitive disadvantages for LGB people,” and that LGB people experience higher rates of depression “for many reasons, including not being accepted by parts of society, feeling ashamed of their sexual orientation or trying to hide their romantic relationships and being treated unfairly in school or at work.”
Further research into specific stressors and their impact on LGB cognitive impairments was needed, Hsieh said, as well as a greater focus on equality and inclusivity to improve mental wellbeing.
“Social inequality makes less privileged groups, including sexual minorities, more prone to develop cognitive impairment,” Hsieh said. “Making the society more just and more accepting of diverse sexuality may help prevent dementia and reduce related health care burden on society.”
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