People who live in poverty are significantly more likely to develop dementia compared to people of higher socioeconomic status, regardless of genetic risk, new research concludes.
A largescale study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine examined data from 196,368 UK Biobank participants whose genetic risk for developing dementia was assessed.
In the paper, researchers looked at poverty, or low socioeconomic status, on two levels. The researchers investigated the contribution of individual socioeconomic deprivation, including low income and low wealth. They also looked at area-level socioeconomic deprivation, including rates of employment, and the number of people who owned a car or home. They calculated risk of developing dementia, and compared these with genetic risk for dementia.
They found that deprivation, both linked to socioeconomic conditions of households and at area level, contributed to risk of dementia. The increased risk was particularly associated with people living in very disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
For participants with moderate or high genetic risk, living in a very deprived area is associated with even higher risk for developing dementia, even after adjusting for variations in socioeconomic conditions between individual households.
Some participants had brain imaging data available. This indicated that living in poverty was linked to more damage to nerve fibres called white-matter, which enables communication between different areas of the brain. This applied on both individual and area level.
“In the midst of a cost of living crisis, our findings that people living in poverty are at particular risk for developing dementia is critically important. Of course, avoiding dementia would be one of many advantages of lifting people out of poverty, however sadly that’s not a very realistic goal for many. What we can do Is ensure that emerging new dementia prevention services target this particularly vulnerable group,” said Dr Janice Ranson, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School and joint senior author of the study.
“Our findings point to the importance of the conditions in which people live, work and age for their risk of developing dementia, particularly those who are already genetically more vulnerable,” said Matthias Klee, doctoral student at the University of Luxembourg and lead author of the study.
“The link between poverty and dementia risk highlights the importance of environmental influences on brain health. It is cause for optimism that the potential benefits of risk reduction interventions are not limited to those with a low genetic risk. Understanding the link between poverty and dementia is therefore critical to developing effective strategies and policies to prevent this devastating condition,” said Professor David Llewellyn, at the University of Exeter Medical School and joint senior author of the study.
The paper is entitled ‘Socioeconomic Deprivation, Genetic Risk, and Incident Dementia’, and is published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.