A study of over 12,000 people has found that people who lived through a recession in early adulthood or midlife are more likely to have worse cognitive skills in their 50s. The paper is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The study, led by researchers at the University of Luxembourg, used data from 12,020 over-50s in 11 European countries who had taken part in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe. Each participant had their thinking and memory skills assessed and their detailed work histories were also taken, along with data on the number of economic downturns in each country between 1959 and 2003.
The researchers found that in men, those who lived through recessions in their mid to late 40s had worse cognitive scores in their 50s than those who did not, and were more likely to have lost their jobs during this period. For women, those who experienced more recessions between the ages of 25 to 44 also had worse cognitive scores in their 50s. These women were also more likely to have taken part-time jobs or jobs with lower status than they had previously held.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“This large study suggests that the work people do throughout their life may affect their cognition in later life, but it’s important to note that this research doesn’t tell us that recessions cause cognitive decline. These findings lend more weight to the theory that mental activity may help people maintain their cognitive abilities as they grow older, but it’s not clear what other factors may have played a part in these results. One drawback of this research is that the people involved only had their cognition measured once, and only in later life, meaning it’s not possible to know how far their abilities declined over time.
“We should remember that the people in this study did not have dementia, but understanding factors linked to cognitive decline could also be important for finding ways to prevent the condition. As the number of people with dementia increases, investment in research is crucial if we are to find new strategies to help delay or prevent the condition.”