New research suggests that for older women, living in a poor neighborhood is associated with lower cognitive function as compared to women who live in more affluent settings.
The study, published online by the American Journal of Public Health, is the largest of its type to examine whether living in a poor neighborhood is associated with lower cognitive function.
Researchers found that medical conditions, health behaviors and psychosocial factors such as depressive symptoms accounted for only a part of the relationship between neighborhood socioeconomic status and cognitive function.
“This study provides the best evidence yet that living in a neighborhood with lower socioeconomic standing can have an impact on women’s cognitive abilities in late life,” said Dr. Regina A. Shih, the study’s lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
“More work is needed to find out whether living in a lower socioeconomic status neighborhood influences cognitive decline that may affect a woman’s risk of developing dementia, and to consider ways to intervene.”
In the study, researchers analyzed information collected from 6,137 women from across the United States who were surveyed as a part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, an ancillary study to the Women’s Health Initiative hormone therapy trials.
In the memory study, evaluators enrolled women from 39 locations who were at least 65 years old and free of dementia.
All the women in the study were given a standard test that measures cognitive function by assessing items such as memory, reasoning and spatial functions.
Researchers found that women who lived in neighborhoods with lower socioeconomic status were substantially more likely to have low cognitive scores than similar women who lived in more affluent neighborhoods.
However, researchers did not find that older individuals are more vulnerable to the effects of neighborhood socioeconomic status because of a longer exposure to poor or declining neighborhoods. This finding is in contrast to that discovered in prior research efforts.
Investigators did find that that non-white women may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of living in a neighborhood with a lower socioeconomic status.
However, researchers did not find that an individual’s income level or education strengthened or weakened the relationship between neighborhood socioeconomic status and their cognitive functioning.
Source: RAND Corporation