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Recessions During Midlife Linked to Risk of Cognitive Decline

People who experience multiple economic recessions in midlife may be at higher risk of cognitive decline, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Men who didn’t live through any recession in their mid- to late-40s had an average cognitive score of negative 0.07 at ages 50 to 74, compared with a score of negative 0.12 for those who experienced four or more recessions, according to an analysis of data from 12,000 people in 11 European countries. The research, published today, was led by Anja Leist, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Luxembourg.

Cognitive decline may result from layoffs, enforced part-time work, and the need to take salary cuts and accept lower-status work, according to the authors. The research adds to a separate study that showed that being born during a recession is significantly linked to lower later-life cognitive function.

“Our findings suggest that potentially unanticipated macroeconomic shocks during vulnerable periods in midlife may affect an individual’s potential to accumulate cognitive reserve,” the authors said in the paper.

Cognitive function was assessed through tests on verbal fluency, immediate recall, delayed recall, orientation and arithmetic.

The research also suggests that policies that encourage women to enter and remain in the job market through early adulthood and mid-adulthood, and policies that enable men to return to work or remain engaged in productive activities during the late stages of their career may bring benefits to cognitive functioning in older age, they said.

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