Poverty May Contribute to Premature Aging


A new study shows that economic challenges negatively affect cognitive function, even in young people. (Photo: Gallery Stock)

Young people living with perceived financial hardships are aging before their time, according to findings collected over 25 years and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The researchers examined the data for approximately 3,400 adults, focusing on their income levels and cognitive function, at six intervals between 1985 and 2010. The male and female participants were 18 to 30 years old at the beginning of the study. Sustained poverty was defined as the percentage of time the participants’ household income fell below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

At the end of the research period, the volunteers — who were 50 years old, on average — were instructed to take part in three tests that are commonly used in order to detect cognitive aging: the Rey Auditory-Verbal Learning Test (which measures verbal memory and the ability to memorize words), the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (which measures speed), and the Stroop test (which measures the additional amount of processing needed to respond to one stimulus while suppressing another).

The authors discovered “strong and graded associations” between ongoing economic challenges and impaired cognitive function, mostly when it came to processing speed. These adults also scored “significantly” lower compared to those who were not in poverty.

“Income is dynamic, and individuals are likely to experience income changes and mobility, especially between young adulthood and midlife,” said lead investigator Adina Zeki al Hazzouri, of the division of epidemiology in the department of public health sciences at the University of Miami, in a press release. “Monitoring changes in income and financial difficulty over an extended period of time, and how these influence cognitive health, is of great public health interest.”

“I’m not entirely surprised by these results, because we know that poverty and socioeconomic difficulties can contribute to a lot of different things in someone’s life,” Jennifer Caudle, a family physician and assistant professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Yahoo Beauty. “This is what we call multifactorial, meaning there are many contributing factors or causes.”

Caudle stresses the significance of seeking help in order to deal with the psychological ramifications of living under severe financial constraints.

“Finding a physician or a place to go to get health care where someone could talk with you, not just about blood pressure and cholesterol, but how you feel emotionally, is very important,” she says. “That’s because I think of stress as a medical condition — it’s like how I think of hypertension.”

Overall, Caudle believes this study serves as a powerful reminder for society as a whole. “It opens the door to further studies on this topic,” she says, “since I think this is something everyone should be aware of.”

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