In the U.S., certain populations shoulder a disproportionate burden of disease and death across a range of health conditions. Black adults are more likely than people from any other race to get and die from many types of cancer. Lesbian, gay and bisexual adults have more risk factors for cardiovascular disease than straight adults.
The brain is no exception when it comes to health disparities. Women, for example, are at greater risk for both stroke and dementia than men. In fact, women account for about two-thirds of dementia cases worldwide. Dementia rates are also higher among Black and Hispanic adults than among whites. At the same time, these groups often experience discrimination when seeking care, according to a new report on inequities in brain health from AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH).
“If we want to improve brain health for all, we have to pay more attention to the needs of those at greatest risk of poor health and address social conditions that stand in the way,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, senior vice president of policy and brain health at AARP and executive director of the GCBH. “Cognitive decline is not inevitable, and everyone should have the opportunity to experience better brain health as they age.”
The GCBH report includes several recommendations for overcoming inequities. Many are aimed at health care providers and policymakers, but there’s advice for individuals, too. Notably, the GCBH encourages all adults to find a health care provider who listens to and understands their cultural values. This is often referred to as culturally sensitive care.
Healthy Habits for Your Brain
Did you know everyday habits can reduce risks to your brain health as you age? Here are six that can help keep your brain healthy, according to the Global Council on Brain Health:
- Be social.
- Find ways to engage and stimulate your brain.
- Manage stress.
- Stay physically active.
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat a healthy diet.
Finding the right doctor could improve your health
Benefits abound when it comes to having a culturally sensitive health care provider, says Lisa Cooper, M.D., founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity.
“Having that kind of care means that a person can communicate more effectively with the people taking care of them. They feel more that they are a partner in their care, and they feel that they can trust that people have their best interests at heart,” says Cooper, author of the book Why Are Health Disparities Everyone’s Problem?
The impact of this bond translates to better treatment outcomes. When patients trust their health care provider, research shows they’re more likely to adhere to their medications and try preventive recommendations, like diet and exercise. They’re also more likely to provide feedback on what’s not working “because they feel like they can be honest with you,” says Gary Ferguson, a naturopathic doctor and director of outreach and engagement at Washington State University’s Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health.