Recessions linked to cognitive decline in later life

AFP| Updated: Nov 21, 2013, 10:00 AM IST

Paris: People who go through an economic recession at the peak of their working life suffer a risk of cognitive decline in later years, a study suggested on Wednesday.

The findings imply that mental skills may be affected by periods of redundancy or forced moves to part-time, lower-paid or lower-status work.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers looked at data from a massive European study on health and employment, covering 12,000 people aged 50 years and older in 11 countries.

The volunteers were tested on five skills, including memory, verbal fluency and numeracy.

The researchers looked at how this score changed in relation to the number of recessions an individual had been through, and when this event, or events, had occurred.

The probe found that men were affected most when they were hit by a recession in their mid to late 40s.

For women, though, the greatest impact was when it occurred in their mid-20s to mid-30s.

In raw terms, every recession that occurred at this peak period in working life translated to a relative decline of one year in cognitive skills at the age of 60, lead researcher Anja Leist at the University of Luxembourg said.

In other words, someone who had been through three recessions would, at the age of 60, have the cognitive skills of someone aged 63, she said in a phone interview.

"These figures are statistical averages," comparing people of similar background, she stressed.

Previous research has suggested that having a productive or stimulating job boosts "cognitive reserve," or mental resources that are used at a later age.

The "reserve" becomes eroded through joblessness or downgraded working conditions, the new study suggests.

"To our knowledge this is the first study to show that economic recessions experienced at vulnerable ages in early and mid-adulthood are associated with lower cognitive function at older ages."