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Wealth not education impacts the likelihood of developing dementia, study finds

Patients at the lower end of the financial scale are at higher risk of developing dementia, according to new research.

Researchers from University College London, University of Surrey and University of Exeter, set out to understand the association between socioeconomic markers and dementia incidence.

They found that people with fewer financial resources were at higher risk of dementia, when compared with the wealthiest patients, while the level of education made no significant difference.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a representative prospective cohort study, and looked at over 6,000 individuals aged 65 years and older.

It found that the hazard of developing dementia was 1.68 times higher for those in the lowest wealth quintile compared with those in the highest.

The paper said: ‘We found a positive association between lower wealth and dementia incidence that was independent of education, area-level deprivation and covariates.’

It explained that while there are several possible explanations for the ‘strong relationship’ between wealth and subsequent health outcomes, the access to ‘more mentally stimulating environments’ is likely to be a factor.

Increased financial status was also linked with broader access to cultural resources and increased social networks, which the researchers suggested could contribute to higher cognitive reserve.

Study author Dr David Llewellyn, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: ‘Our study shows that the poorest people are significantly more likely to develop dementia than the wealthiest people.

‘We don’t yet know why, but we think it’s likely that differences in lifestyle are driving this increased risk. Intervention trials targeting the deprived group in areas including education, diet and exercise could offer up key opportunities for dementia prevention.’

Alzheimer Society chief policy and research officer Dr Doug Brown added:  ‘Research can play a role to ensure that everyone, whatever their “pay packet”, reduces their risk of dementia and gets the care they need.’

The researchers have said that public health strategies for dementia prevention should ‘target socioeconomic gaps to reduce health disparities and protect those who are particularly disadvantaged’.

This follows the suggestion that GPs could consider anxiety alongside depression as an indicator of risk for dementia, after a study highlighted the positive association between clinically significant anxiety and future dementia.


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