Poverty and perceived hardship among young people may put them at the risk of worse cognitive function and premature ageing, a new study has warned. Previous research has shown that exposure to poor socioeconomic conditions during childhood, adulthood, or cumulatively, is associated with cognitive deficits.
"Income is dynamic and individuals are likely to experience income changes and mobility especially between young adulthood and midlife," said lead investigator Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri from the University of Miami in the US. "Monitoring changes in income and financial difficulty over an extended period of time and how these influence cognitive health is of great public health interest," she said.
Zeki Al Hazzouri and her colleagues examined the effects of sustained poverty and perceived financial difficulty on cognitive function in midlife using income data for about 3,400 adults who took part in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) prospective cohort study. The CARDIA study included black and white males and females 18 to 30 years of age at the start of the study in 1985-86.
Income data were collected from study participants six times between 1985 and 2010. Sustained poverty was defined as the percentage of time the participants' household income was less than 200 per cent of the US federal poverty level. Participants were divided into four groups: never in poverty; less than 1/3 of the time; from 1/3 to nearly 100 per cent of the time; or always in poverty. In 2010, at a mean age of 50 years, participants underwent three tests that are widely used and considered reliable to detect cognitive ageing.
The study found strong and graded associations between greater exposure to economic hardship and worse cognitive function, processing speed in particular, leading investigators to conclude that poverty and perceived hardship may be important contributors to cognitive ageing. Individuals with all-time poverty performed significantly worse than those never in poverty.
Similar results were observed in persons with perceived financial difficulty. "Maintaining cognitive abilities is a key component of health," said Zeki Al Hazzouri. "Findings among this relatively young cohort place economic hardship as being on the pathway to cognitive ageing and as an important contributor to premature ageing among economically disadvantaged populations," she said. The research was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.