Alzheimer's Association conference in San Diego links poverty to dementia
Several studies released Tuesday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in San Diego found that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood and receiving low wages are associated with a higher dementia risk.
According to the findings at AAIC 2022, people who experience personal and neighborhood conditions such as low income, high unemployment, low car- or homeownership rates and household overcrowding were significantly more likely to develop dementia compared with individuals of better socioeconomic status, even those at high genetic risk.
Lower-quality neighborhood resources and difficulty paying for basic needs were associated with lower scores on cognitive tests among Black and Latino individuals, according to the research. Higher parental socioeconomic status was associated with slower cognitive decline in older age. Compared with workers earning higher wages, sustained low-wage earners experienced significantly faster memory decline in older age.
"It's vital we continue to study social determinants of health related to cognition, including socioeconomic status, so we can implement public health policies and create community environments that can improve the health and well-being of all," Matthew Baumgart, vice president of health policy at the Alzheimer's Association, said in a statement.
Matthias Klee, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Luxembourg, collaborated with researchers from universities of Exeter and Oxford to examine data from 196,368 participants' records in the UK Biobank, whose genetic risk for developing dementia was assessed through risk scores.
With that sample, the researchers investigated the contribution of individual socioeconomic deprivation — such as low income — and area-level socioeconomic deprivation — such as employment rates and car/home ownership — to the risk of developing dementia, and compared it with genetic risk for dementia.
Both individual and area-level deprivation contributed to the risk of dementia, researchers found. For participants with moderate or high genetic risk, greater area-level deprivation was associated with even higher risk for developing dementia, after adjusting for individual-level socioeconomic conditions.
"Our findings point to the importance of the conditions in which people live, work and age for their risk of developing dementia, particularly those who are already genetically more vulnerable," Klee said. "Both individual health behaviors and non-influenceable living conditions are relevant to explain risk of dementia, particularly for individuals with increased genetic vulnerability."
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health researcher Katrina Kezios categorized study participants' history of low wages into those who never earned low wages, who intermittently earned low wages or who always earned low wages, and then examined the relationship with memory decline over 12 years.
The team found that, compared with workers never earning low wages, sustained low-wage earners experienced significantly faster memory decline in older age. They experienced around one excess year of cognitive aging per 10- year period.
"Our findings suggest that social policies that enhance the financial well-being of low-wage workers, including increasing the minimum wage, may be especially beneficial for cognitive health," Kezios said.