Sustained low wages associated with accelerated memory decline later in life

According to a new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, sustained low wages are associated with significantly faster memory decline. While low-wage jobs have been linked to negative health outcomes such as depressive symptoms, obesity, and hypertension, all of which are risk factors for cognitive ageing, no previous research had looked specifically at the relationship between low wages during working years and later-life cognitive functioning. The findings were presented today at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® (AAIC®) Promoting Diverse Perspectives: Addressing Health Disparities Related to Alzheimer’s and All Dementias. They were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The body of knowledge about the effects of low income on health is rapidly expanding. The researchers examined data from 2,879 people born between 1936 and 1941 from the national Health and Retirement Study (HRS) of adults from 1992 to 2016. A low-wage hourly wage was defined as one that was less than two-thirds of the federal median wage for the corresponding year. Based on wages earned from 1992 to 2004, Kezios and colleagues classified study participants’ history of low wages into those who never earned low wages, intermittently earned low wages, or always earned low wages, and then examined the relationship with memory decline over the next 12 years from 2004 to 2016.

The researchers discovered that, when compared to workers who never earned low wages, sustained low-wage earners had significantly faster memory decline in old age. They experienced approximately one extra year of cognitive ageing per ten years; in other words, the level of cognitive ageing experienced by sustained low-wage earners over a ten-year period would be equivalent to what those who never earned low wages experienced in 11 years.

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