Forget Me Not

Science says queer people at higher risk for dementia

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A new study of gay, lesbian and bisexual people has revealed that members of the community are at a higher risk for dementia than their heterosexual counterparts.

Michigan State University performed the study, which compared the cognitive abilities of more than 3,500 adults. Areas of research included temporal orientation; language; visuospatial skills; executive function; attention, concentration and working memory; and short-term memory. Researchers also compared different physical and social conditions, mental health conditions and lifestyle habits in hopes of determining any related causes.

The researchers concluded that gay, lesbian and bisexual people are at a higher risk for mild cognitive impairment or early dementia than their straight counterparts. The study also appeared to find a cause: queer people experience much higher rates of depression.

“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,” Ning Hsieh, an assistant professor of sociology at MSU and lead author of the study told Medical Express. 

Related: How to deal with the depression that hurts so many older gay men

“Our findings suggest that depression may be one of the important underlying factors leading to cognitive disadvantages for LGB people,” Hsieh added. “They may experience higher rates of depression than their heterosexual peers 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.”

Hsieh also stressed that more research is needed to better understand the link between the depression sexual minorities suffer and cognitive impairment. She also added that other risk factors, such as drinking or smoking, did not appear to affect development of dementia later in life.

“Social inequality makes less privileged groups, including sexual minorities, more prone to develop cognitive impairment,” Hsieh concluded. “Making the society more just and more accepting of diverse sexuality may help prevent dementia and reduce related health care burden on society.”

Numerous studies conducted over the past 50 years have shown that LGBTQ people are at much higher risk for depression and suicide as a result of societal stigma.