Aging

Medicare eligibility drives down racial disparities, study finds

Access to Medicare may help address racial disparities in insurance coverage, access and self-reported outcomes, according to a new study (Source: “Medicare eligibility erases many healthcare disparities in US,” Healthcare Dive, July 26).

The research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, tracked more than 2.4 million Americans and found that immediately after turning 65, and thus becoming eligible for Medicare, coverage for Black respondents increased from 86.3% to 95.8%. Among Hispanic respondents, coverage increased from 77.4% to 91.3%.

The JAMA study has validated the importance of Medicare in terms of leveling the playing field for Americans when it comes to healthcare access — a gap that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas there are significant gaps in access to healthcare and disparities among ethnic groups, reaching Medicare age wipes much of them out.

Disparities in insurance coverage were cut by 53% between Black people and white people, and 51% for Latino people versus white people. The proportion of Black and Latino people who self-reported their health as poor also dropped significantly after they became eligible for Medicare.


Study links air pollution to reduced cognitive ability

New research suggests that even short-term exposure to polluted air, at levels generally considered “acceptable,” may impair mental ability in the elderly (Source: “Air Pollution Takes a Toll on the Brain,” New York Times, May 17).

The study of 954 men, average age 69, living in the greater Boston area found that higher levels of PM 2.5, particles of soot and other fine particulate matter with a diameter of up to 2.5 microns, were consistently associated with lower cognitive test scores. The study, in Nature Aging, adjusted for age, BMI, coronary heart disease, diabetes, alcohol consumption, smoking, high blood pressure and other factors.

Dr. Andrea A. Baccarelli, the senior author and a professor of environmental science at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, said that these short-term effects may be reversible. “When air pollution goes down,” he said, “the brain reboots and goes back to normal. However, if repeated, these episodes produce long-term damage to the brain.”

“Some of these particles come from natural sources — sea salt, for example, soil and pollen,” Dr. Baccarelli added. “We’ll never be completely free of them. But the ones generated by humans are much worse. The good news is that we’re at a point where we have the technology to reduce air pollution even further.”


Study finds link between neighborhood noise levels, dementia risk

Long-term exposure to noise may be linked to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, a new study found (Source: “Living in Noisy Neighborhoods May Raise Your Dementia Risk,” New York Times, Oct. 28).

After controlling for education, race, smoking, alcohol consumption, neighborhood air pollution levels and other factors, researchers found that each 10 decibel increase in community noise level was associated with a 36% higher likelihood of mild cognitive impairment, and a 29 percent increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The associations were strongest in poorer neighborhoods, which also had higher noise levels, according to the study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

The reasons for the connection are unknown, but the lead author, Jennifer Weuve, an associate professor of epidemiology at Boston University, suggested that excessive noise can cause sleep deprivation, hearing loss, increased heart rate, constriction of the blood vessels and elevated blood pressure, all of which are associated with an increased risk for dementia.