Long-term poverty in young adulthood and midlife affects cognitive function by age 50, according to researchers, earlier than previously thought.
Researchers at the University of California San Francisco say their new study,published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggests poverty has a greater, faster influence on brain function than previous research has shown.
“Our findings reveal a clear graded relationship such that cognitive performance, and processing speed in particular, was worse with cumulative exposure to economic adversity,” Dr. Kristine Yaffe, who is also chief of neuropsychiatry at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and senior author of the study, said in apress release.
For the study, researchers collected data on 3,383 adults between age 18 and 30 as part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, interviewing them six times between 1985 and 2010. Sustained poverty was defined by the amount of time participants spent with an income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Participants who’d spent more time in poverty scored an average 0.92 points less on verbal memory in a range from 0 to 15, 11.6 points lower on processing speed in a range from 8 to 125 and slightly lower on a test measuring response to stimuli.
“Maintaining cognitive abilities is a key component of health,” said Dr. Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri of the Division of Epidemiology, Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami. “Findings from this relatively young cohort place economic hardship as being on the pathway to cognitive aging and as an important contributor to premature aging among economically disadvantaged populations.”