Maria Glymour

Maria Glymour, SD

Chair and Professor, Epidemiology - Boston University School of Public Health


Research Interests
- Alzheimer's disease and related causes of cognitive aging and dementia
- Social determinants of health and health equity
- Social policies and health
- Causal inference in social epidemiology and dementia research

My research focuses on how social factors experienced across the lifecourse, from infancy to adulthood, influence cognitive function, dementia, stroke, and other health outcomes in old age. I am especially interested in education and other exposures amenable to policy interventions. The health of current cohorts of elderly individuals in the US reflect a lifetime of social exposures, including educational experiences shaped by major changes in schooling policies. Education is especially interesting because it is such a powerful predictor of health and historically, access to education has frequently been restricted based on race, gender, and other socially enforced criteria. One thread of my research examines how changes in schooling laws and school quality in the 20th century might have influenced the health and cognitive outcomes of current cohorts of elderly, including adults subject to race-based school segregation. Our results suggest that extra schooling has substantial benefits for memory function in the elderly. I have also worked on the influence of "place" on health, for example to understand the excess stroke burden for individuals who grew up in the US Stroke Belt. In a project with colleagues including Drs. Rachel Whitmer, Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, and Paola Gilsanz, we are continuing a unique multi-ethnic cohort of older adults in Northern California, with a wealth of lifecourse biological and social data to offer insight into the reasons for racial/ethnic differences in Alzheimer's and dementia risk (

A separate theme of my research focuses on overcoming methodological problems encountered in analyses of social determinants of health, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia. For many reasons, research focusing on lifecourse epidemiology as well as cognitive aging introduces substantial methodological challenges. Sometimes, these are conceptual challenges, and clear causal thinking can help! Many of these challenges are being addressed in the MELODEM (MEthods in LOngitudinal research on DEMentia) initiative, an international group of researchers focusing on analytic challenges in research on dementia and cognitive aging. MELODEM has working group phone calls on the first and third Thursdays of the month, open to all ( My group works with numerous colleagues on methods to improve measurement, including crosswalking across data sets. For example, in work with Dr. Zeki Al Hazzouri, we are linking data sets with detailed information at different lifecourse periods -- e.g., childhood, early adulthood, and later adulthood -- to better evaluate long-term effects of exposures at specific sensitive ages. In work with Dr. Cathy Schaefer, Ron Krauss, and many others, we are fielding emulated trial designs in the large, diverse Kaiser Permanente Northern California cohort. This setting is exceptional for emulated trial designs because of the large size, long follow-up, and combination of high-quality clinical data plus social and genetic information for large groups of study participants.

I have advocated the use of causal directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) as a standard research tool to represent our causal hypotheses and help elucidate potential biases in proposed analyses. In other cases, the methodological problems require more analytical solutions that have been developed elsewhere in epidemiology or in other disciplines, but are rarely applied to these research questions. Instrumental variables analyses of natural or induced experiments are one promising example. Genetic variations have recently been advanced as possible instrumental variables to estimate the health effects of a wide range of phenotypes, an approach sometimes called “Mendelian Randomization.” Using genetic polymorphisms as instrumental variables could provide a very powerful tool for social epidemiology, but the inferences from such analyses rest on strong assumptions. Thus I am currently working with a team to explore approaches to evaluating the plausibility of those assumptions in applications for social epidemiology.

Students and post-doctoral fellows interested in research collaborations related to my work are welcome to send me an email directly or contact Robin Hyatt,, who handles my calendar.


  • Harvard School of Public Health, SD Field of Study: Epidemiology
  • University of Chicago, AB Field of Study: Biology
  • Harvard School of Public Health, SM/ScM Field of Study: Epidemiology

Classes Taught

  • SPHEP912


  • Published on 7/5/2024

    Kezios KL, Zimmerman SC, Buto PT, Rudolph KE, Calonico S, Zeki Al-Hazzouri A, Glymour MM. Overcoming data gaps in life course epidemiology by matching across cohorts. Epidemiology. 2024 Jul 05. PMID: 38967975.

    Read At: PubMed
  • Published on 6/26/2024

    Kim MH, Frøslev T, White JS, Glymour MM, Illango SD, Sørensen HT, Pedersen L, Hamad R. Mediating pathways between neighborhood disadvantage and cardiovascular risk: Quasi-experimental evidence from a Danish refugee dispersal policy. Am J Epidemiol. 2024 Jun 26. PMID: 38932569.

    Read At: PubMed
  • Published on 5/29/2024

    Luo R, Zeraatkar D, Glymour M, Ellis RJ, Estiri H, Patel CJ. Specification curve analysis to identify heterogeneity in risk factors for dementia: findings from the UK Biobank. BMC Med. 2024 May 29; 22(1):216. PMID: 38807092.

    Read At: PubMed
  • Published on 5/21/2024

    Jawadekar N, Zimmerman S, Lu P, Riley AR, Glymour MM, Kezios K, Al Hazzouri AZ. A Critique and Examination of the Polysocial Risk Score Approach: Predicting Cognition in the Health and Retirement Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2024 May 21. PMID: 38775285.

    Read At: PubMed
  • Published on 5/20/2024

    Ikesu R, Wu Y, Zimmerman SC, Inoue K, Buto P, Power MC, Schaefer CA, Glymour MM, Mayeda ER. Representativeness of Participants in the ACCORD Trial Compared to Middle-aged and Older Adults Living with Diabetes in the United States. Epidemiology. 2024 Jul 01; 35(4):432-436. PMID: 38771709.

    Read At: PubMed
  • Published on 5/20/2024

    Schwartz GL, Wang G, Kim MH, Glymour MM, White JS, Collin D, Hamad R. Individual and regional differences in the effects of school racial segregation on Black students' health. SSM Popul Health. 2024 Jun; 26:101681. PMID: 38840850.

    Read At: PubMed
  • Published on 5/7/2024

    Gutierrez S, Meza E, Glymour MM, Torres JM. My Parent, Myself, or My Child: Whose Education Matters Most for Trajectories of Cognitive Aging in Middle Age? Am J Epidemiol. 2024 May 07; 193(5):695-706. PMID: 37116072.

    Read At: PubMed
  • Published on 4/17/2024

    Mobley TM, Hayes-Larson E, Wu Y, Peterson RL, George KM, Gilsanz P, Glymour MM, Thomas MD, Barnes LL, Whitmer RA, Mayeda ER. School racial composition, effect modification by caring teacher/staff presence, and mid/late-life depressive symptoms: findings from the Study of Healthy Aging among African Americans. Am J Epidemiol. 2024 Apr 17. PMID: 38634611.

    Read At: PubMed
  • Published on 3/27/2024

    Almeida ML, Pederson AM, Zimmerman SC, Chen R, Ackley S, Riley A, Eng CW, Whitmer RA, George KM, Peterson RL, Mayeda ER, Gilsanz P, Mungas DM, Farias ST, Glymour MM. The Association Between Physical Activity and Cognition in a Racially/Ethnically Diverse Cohort of Older Adults: Results From the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences Study. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2024 Apr-Jun 01; 38(2):120-127. PMID: 38533734.

    Read At: PubMed
  • Published on 3/1/2024

    Wang J, Hill-Jarrett T, Buto P, Pederson A, Sims KD, Zimmerman SC, DeVost MA, Ferguson E, Lacar B, Yang Y, Choi M, Caunca MR, La Joie R, Chen R, Glymour MM, Ackley SF. Comparison of approaches to control for intracranial volume in research on the association of brain volumes with cognitive outcomes. Hum Brain Mapp. 2024 Mar; 45(4):e26633. PMID: 38433682.

    Read At: PubMed

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