Does a Cancer Diagnosis in Mid-to-Later Life Modify Racial Disparities in Memory Aging?

Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2022 Apr-Jun;36(2):140-147. doi: 10.1097/WAD.0000000000000493. Epub 2022 Feb 4.


Background: It is unknown whether an incident cancer diagnosis differentially impacts acute and long-term memory aging between older White and Black Americans.

Methods: Incident cancer diagnoses and memory (immediate and delayed recall, combined with proxy-reported memory) were assessed at biennial study interviews in the US Health and Retirement Study (N=14,235, 1998-2016). We used multivariable segmented linear mixed-effects models to evaluate the rate of change in standardized memory score (SD/decade) in the years before, acutely at the time of, and in the years following an incident cancer diagnosis, compared to cancer-free adults, by race.

Results: Black participants experienced faster memory decline than White participants (cancer-free group: -1.211 vs. -1.077; P<0.0001). An incident cancer diagnosis was associated with an acute memory drop in White, but not Black participants (-0.065 vs. 0.024; P<0.0001). However, White cancer survivors experienced slower memory decline than cancer-free White adults before and after diagnosis, but this memory advantage was not observed among Black cancer survivors.

Conclusions: Racial disparities in memory aging are not modified by an incident cancer diagnosis. The acute cancer-related memory decline and long-term memory advantage experienced by White, but not Black, cancer survivors relative to cancer-free older adults, requires further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Black or African American*
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms* / diagnosis