Association of Timing of School Desegregation in the United States with Late-Life Cognition in the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR) Cohort

Rachel L. Peterson, Kristen M. George, Lisa L. Barnes, Paola Gilsanz, Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, M. Maria Glymour, Dan M Mungas, Rachel A. Whitmer

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Abstract

Importance: Prior research suggests schooling differences for Black individuals in the US are associated with worse cognitive aging. It is unknown whether age when experiencing school desegregation is associated with differences in late-life cognition in this population. Objective: To examine patterns of association between age of school desegregation in grades 1 to 12 and late-life cognition. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study analyzed baseline data from the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR) cohort collected from 2018 through 2019 in Northern California, primarily in the cities of Richmond and Oakland. Participants were 699 self-identified Black individuals aged 50 years or older who were community-dwelling, long-term members of Kaiser Permanente Northern California and dementia free at baseline. Exposures: Participants reported whether they attended a segregated school in grades 1, 6, 9, and 12 and were placed in 1 of 6 transition categories: (1) always attended integrated schools; (2) integrated between grades 1 through 5; (3) integrated between grades 6 through 8; (4) integrated between grades 9 through 12; (5) ever moved from integrated to segregated school; (6) never attended integrated schools. Main Outcomes and Measures: Executive function, semantic memory, and verbal episodic memory ascertained via the Spanish and English Neuropsychological Assessment Battery and z standardized for analyses. Results: The mean (SD) age of the 699 participants was 68.5 (8.7) years, and 484 (69.2%) were female. Most participants transitioned from segregated to integrated schools owing to historical timing and cohort geography. Compared with 111 participants who never attended integrated schools (reference group), executive function was better among 50 participants who transitioned to integrated schools between grades 1 and 5 (β = 0.35; 95% CI, 0.08-0.61; P =.01). Semantic memory was better among 435 participants who only attended integrated schools (β = 0.34; 95% CI, 0.14-0.54; P =.001) or among 50 participants who transitioned to integrated schools between grades 1 and 5 (β = 0.43; 95% CI, 0.15-0.72; P =.003). However, no significant differences were found by group for verbal episodic memory function (eg, for 50 participants who transitioned to integrated schools between grades 1 and 5: β = 0.07; 95% CI, -0.22 to 0.35; P =.66). No significant differences were found when testing for potential interactions by sex, Southern birth, or baseline age. Conclusions and Relevance: The STAR cohort data indicated that executive function and semantic memory were higher among Black individuals with some integrated school experience. These results suggest that racially segregated schooling experiences, including de facto segregation present today, may be associated with worse late-life cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2129052
JournalJAMA Network Open
Volume4
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 20 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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