THURSDAY, May 17, 2018 -- Being poor later in life may boost the risk of dementia by 50 percent, new research suggests.
"Our study confirms that the risk of dementia is reduced among well-off older people compared with those who have fewer economic resources," said lead researcher Dorina Cadar.
"Public health strategies for dementia prevention should target socioeconomic gaps to reduce health disparities and protect those who are particularly disadvantaged," Cadar added.
She's a research associate at University College London's department of behavioral science and health.
Many factors could be involved in the findings, including differences in lifestyle and overall health. Also, affluent people have greater social and cultural opportunities that allow them to remain actively engaged with the world, Cadar explained.
And the study did not prove that poverty directly causes dementia risk to rise, just that there's an association.
Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health and NFL Neurological Care in New York City, said it's possible that one sign of dementia is losing control over your finances.
"Poor financial management may be an early sign of dementia, such that financial resources are depleted late in life," he suggested.
"This may also be a manifestation of executive thinking dysfunction, such as paying bills multiple times, or poor judgment and vulnerability to scam artists," Gandy said.
But Gandy also agreed that financial status may be a stand-in for a poorly managed diet and lifestyle, both of which are linked to the risk for dementia.
Cadar said that in "an English, nationally representative sample, the incidence of dementia appeared to be socioeconomically patterned, primarily by the level of wealth."
In the study, she and her colleagues collected data on more than 6,200 men and women aged 65 and older.
Seven percent developed dementia in the 12 years between 2002-2003 and 2014-2015.
The risk of dementia was 50 percent higher among the poorest, compared with the richest people, the researchers found.
This finding was independent of level of education, amount of deprivation and overall health factors.
Rebecca Edelmayer is director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer's Association. She said, "This paper adds credence to the growing list of evidence suggesting that access to good health care and the ability to make healthy lifestyle decisions can really impact our risk of developing dementia."
The report was published online May 16 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Visit the Alzheimer's Association for more on dementia.
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