Skip to main content

Risk factors for cognitive decline in LGBT+ older people

Higher risk for both mental and physical health issues has been found for people from sexual minorities (SM), i.e. non-heterosexual people. According to the “minority stress model”, these health inequalities have been hypothesised to be consequences of sexual orientation-related stigma and the resulting conditions of chronic stress. The impact of minority stress may be particularly detrimental in SM older people and may potentially foster a decline in cognitive functions, such as memory and attention. A handful of retrospective studies attempted to address this issue, but with several limitations regarding study design and lack of data on sexual orientation, cognitive performance and potential risk factors. Therefore, to date, it is unclear whether stigma and health problems may affect the brain and cognitive performance of SM older people and potentially lead to cognitive impairment over time.

The overall aim of this project funded by the Alzheimer's Association is to investigate how measures of stigma and mental health problems contribute to the neurocognitive decline in SM older adults by leveraging existing large databases and by collecting cognitive, brain imaging (MRI) and detailed stigma-related data in a new cohort. These will be used to predict differences, both cross-sectionally and longitudinally, in cognition and cerebral features between heterosexual and non-heterosexual older adults. This project aims to overcome the limitations and inconsistencies currently observed in this emerging field of research by introducing a series of methodological advancements. First, two large UK-based datasets including data on sexual orientation of older adults will be used to investigate potential differences in longitudinal cognitive and brain decline between heterosexual and non-heterosexual older adults aged 60 and above.

These will be the first studies on longitudinal changes in cognition and brain parameters in this minority population by including a comprehensive range of cognitive tests and multimodal brain MRI data. Moreover, the hypothesised impact of stigma and mental health problems on longitudinal neurocognitive decline in SM older adults will be tested for the first time. Finally, novel detailed stigma-related data will be collected using previously validated scales to test whether different dimensions of minority stress predict neurocognitive health in SM older adults.

This project will contribute to quantify the impact of psycho-social risk factors, in particular sexual orientation-related stigma and mental health problems, for brain and cognitive health in the non-heterosexual older people. The findings of this project will increase our understanding of the specific risk factors for cognitive decline/dementia and the associated neural changes in this minority group. It is possible that similar psycho-social factors may be shared by other minority groups, e.g. ethno-racial minorities. Therefore, such insight can potentially improve diversified participant recruitment for clinical trials and enable a “precision medicine” approach to plan therapeutic interventions (both pharmacological and non-pharmacological) meeting specific needs of people from sexual and other minority groups experiencing cognitive decline. Moreover, the findings of this project will offer new useful data to inform policy makers about the additional risks for cognitive decline in this understudied population.

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Riccardo Manca
Dr Riccardo Manca - I obtained by BSc in Psychology from the Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Italy, in 2013 and later specialised in neuropsychology with an MSc in Cognitive neuroscience and clinical neuropsychology at the Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy, in 2015. Since my postgraduate studies I developed a main research interest in cognitive decline. During my PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, UK, (Translational Neuropsychology Group: 2015-2019) I worked with people with multiple sclerosis and used MRI to investigate the neural correlates of processing speed performance and the effects of a network-based cognitive rehabilitation programme. Subsequently, I started to work as a Postdoc at the Department of Neuroscience - University of Sheffield on a variety of projects, mainly focussing on the biological correlates of neuropsychiatric symptoms in Alzheimer's disease. In March 2021 I joined Brunel University London as a Research Fellow. At the moment I am conducting research in different areas: 1) neurocognitive decline in sexual minorities; 2) genetic and neural signatures underlying psychotic symptoms in Alzheimer's disease; 3) coordination of the SOLITUDE study - a longitudinal multi-centre observational study on the impact of social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic on cognitive performance and mental health of people with dementia and their carers.

Related Research Group(s)

brain scan

Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience - Fundamental and applied research into brain function using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EMG), eye-tracking, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS), infrared thermography together with psychophysics and cognitive behavioural paradigms in health and disease.

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 14/11/2023