They say money can’t buy happiness, but can it buy you a healthy brain? A new study has found that poor people are more likely to develop dementia than their more well-off counterparts.
Researchers from University College London looked at over 6,000 adults born between 1902 and 1943. When they compared wealth, they discovered that the bottom 20 percent were 50 percent more likely to develop dementia than the top 20 percent.
“Our findings demonstrate that socioeconomic determinants influence dementia incidence, suggesting a higher risk for individuals with fewer financial resources,” said study author Dr. Dorina Cadar.
Even introducing education, identified as one of the risk indicators for dementia, as a factor did not change the influence that wealth had on the chances of developing dementia.
But what does money have to do with brain health?
“Many factors could be involved,” said Professor Andrew Steptoe, lead author. “Differences in healthy lifestyle and medical risk factors are relevant. It may also be that better off people have greater social and cultural opportunities that allow them to remain actively engaged with the world.”
Essentially, money gets older people access to healthy food and better medical care, along with more opportunities for social engagement.
Wealth was calculated by adding up the value of property, possessions, housing, investments, savings, artwork, and jewelry, and net of debt. The top 20 percent had a median wealth of $255,936, and the bottom 20 percent had a median wealth of $170.
But as with all observational studies that simply examine already existing factors rather than creating a true experiment, this study cannot say for sure that just having more money leads to a decreased risk of dementia. As the authors pointed out, many other factors could be at play.
Study authors hope that this research will lead to programs that target the disadvantaged so they don’t slip through the cracks.
“We hope our findings help inform public health strategies for dementia prevention evidencing why socioeconomic gaps should be targeted to reduce health disparities and enhance engagement in socio-cultural activities that ultimately contribute to a higher mental resilience or cognitive reserve,” said Cadar.
This study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.