Experts estimate that 6.5 million Americans (10.7 percent of individuals ages 65 and older) have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. As the U.S. population ages, they expect this number to triple by 2050.
November 29, 2023 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
Health services policy and management assistant professor Nicole Hair will lead a study to examine the cognitive function of older adults who were exposed to measles during childhood. The two projects are funded by the National Institute on Aging.
“The goal of our research is to better understand how different experiences during childhood – especially those related to health – shape health and well-being across the life course,” Hair says. “These pilot projects will support our efforts to assess the effectiveness of public health campaigns aimed at preventing the spread of infectious diseases in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”
Experts estimate that 6.5 million Americans (10.7 percent of individuals ages 65 and older) have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. As the U.S. population ages, they expect this number to triple by 2050. With few effective treatments available, scientists and clinicians look to lifestyle behaviors and other predictors to identify vulnerable individuals and groups who may benefit from early screening and intervention.
These risk factors may include childhood experiences and exposures, which often play a role in children’s cognitive development. Exposures to infectious diseases in childhood have also been shown to have lasting effects in immunological, inflammatory and vascular processes as well as lower performance on cognitive tests.
The introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963 contributed to dramatic reductions in childhood illnesses from infectious diseases. Using data collected in the Health and Retirement Study for a sample of older adults who were born between 1942 and 1965, Hair and her colleagues will examine how childhood measles exposure (a function of state-level measles incidence rates and access to the measles vaccine) relates to cognitive functioning later in life.
“We already know that individuals born after the measles vaccine became available had more success as adults in terms of employment and income when compared to older groups who did not have the opportunity to be vaccinated as children,” Hair says. “This study will shed more light on other potential long-term benefits of routine childhood vaccinations on cognitive health.”
A member of the Arnold School since 2016, Hair is an economist who studies the relationships between poverty, health and human capital. She is particularly interested in the socioeconomic differences in childhood health and access to care, programs to improve childhood vaccination coverage, and public health interventions aimed at promoting equity for disadvantaged children.
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