Living in the suburbs could help protect you from dementia, a study found.
People in poorer areas were far more likely to show the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease than those who lived in wealthier districts.
Scientists believe factors such as pollution, limited access to healthy food or space to exercise and low levels of education in deprived areas may have a damaging effect on brain health.
In affluent areas access to good education, nutrition and cleaner air can promote health
But the reverse could be true of affluent areas, where access to good education, nutrition and cleaner air can promote health. Dr Dean Hartley, of the US-based Alzheimer’s Association, said: ‘It is not only things like good schools, nutrition and exercise programmes [in wealthier areas], it is not having that daily stress that disadvantaged areas bring, like when you’re going off to school wondering “will I eat today?”, “do I have to worry about my little brother or sister?”, or the stress of not having a job or not being able to put food on the table.’
In a study presented at London’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2017, researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health studied data on the socioeconomic status of 1,479 people. They then tested cognitive performance – how the brain functions in memory, verbal and learning tests – and found people from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods had markedly worse performance across all areas.
While people in the wealthiest areas tended to have average or above-average clinical scores in the tests, scores dropped with each level of deprivation.
Participants from the poorest areas scored around 25 per cent below average, even after age and education were accounted for. Poor cognitive function is a warning sign of Alzheimer’s.
People in the wealthiest areas tended to have average or above-average clinical scores
Researchers also tested the spinal fluid of 153 participants and found those from the most disadvantaged areas also had unusually high levels of a protein which can signal the onset of Alzheimer’s. Dr Amy Kind, who led the research, said: ‘People living in neighbourhoods with the highest level of disadvantage had much worse cognitive performance in all aspects even after adjusting for age and education.’
And Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘There’s good UK data that supports the fact that diagnosis rates are really driven by socio-economic factors.’