Childhood hardships linked to poorer thinking skills in older age

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By Alice Tuohy | Wednesday 26 September 2018

Neurology: Socioeconomic position in childhood and cognitive aging in Europe

European researchers have found that socioeconomic hardships during childhood are associated with poorer memory and thinking performance in later life. The findings are published today (26 September) in the scientific journal, Neurology.

Researchers studied data collected from over 20,000 European volunteers using a number of tests to assess memory and thinking skills over a period of 12 years. Participants were asked to report information about how many people they lived with, how many rooms their home had and how many books were in their house when they were ten years old. They used this information to compile a score for ‘socioeconomic hardship’ during childhood.

The scientists found that there was an association between childhood socioeconomic hardship and thinking abilities in people with an average age of 71. The relationship between socioeconomic hardship and poorer thinking skills remained significant even after researchers took into account other risk factors including education level. However, the finding was not associated with a decline in cognition over time.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Socioeconomic status is closely intertwined with many different aspects of our lifestyle, and is strongly associated with our risk of various health conditions as we age. The research suggests that even in childhood, our socioeconomic situation may have a far-reaching influence on our cognitive performance.

“Although the study did find an association between childhood hardship and overall thinking skills, it relied on people recalling specific details from their youth and is unlikely to give a full picture of an individual’s socioeconomic status.

“The findings add to suggestions that we need to change the way we think about our brain health, to be one similar to how we currently think about heart health. By considering brain health as a broader concept, including life-long risk factors influencing cognitive health, we can support people to start taking steps to keep their brain healthy at any age. With greater understanding of the factors influencing brain health and dementia risk, we will be better able to make breakthroughs that could make a real difference to people’s lives.”


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Alice Tuohy