Apartheid legacy has impacted cognitive function in coloured women - study

Prof Elmarie Terblanche, of Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences talks to Lester Kiewit about a report titled 'Age and education effects on cognitive functioning in Colored South African women.'

This research shows coloured women are susceptible to learning disabilities due to a historically broken education system.

The report has been criticised for playing into racist tropes.

It is very unfortunate that that is the view because it was absolutely not the idea to highlight what is going on in a specific population. Rather, this is a group that is not often studied while there are similar studies on other population groups.

Prof Elmarie Terblanche, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences - University of Stellenbosch

She says this group in South Africa has the highest levels of hypertension and cholesterol, physical inactivity and obesity.

All those factors affect cognitive functioning.

Prof Elmarie Terblanche, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences - University of Stellenbosch

She agrees with critics who argue the term 'coloured' is not one that can be applied to a homogenous group but says as scientists and researchers, different racial groups need to be specified as they may exhibit different health problems.

Because of the unique characteristics of each community, we have to understand what is going on amongst those individuals before we can devise interventions or health programmes.

Prof Elmarie Terblanche, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences - University of Stellenbosch

There was huge debate in the department about using the term 'coloured'.

Prof Elmarie Terblanche, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences - University of Stellenbosch

The apartheid legacy had a profound impact on the development of black people in South Africa - and lack of access to proper education was a key factor.

Terblanche says access to education over the past 20 years has not improved.

Those not exposed to proper education are at very high risk of developing a neurocognitive disease of which dementia is one.

Prof Elmarie Terblanche, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences - University of Stellenbosch

The study did not address intelligence but rather a cognitive functioning which is the very specific functions of our brain which helps us to pay attention to things, to remember things, and plan tasks. It is not a question of intelligence.

Prof Elmarie Terblanche, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences - University of Stellenbosch

This cognitive functioning is affected as we age and is also impacted by education, she explains. Improving fitness is an important way of countering this problem.

Listen to Terblanche's findings below:


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