People who experience a recession in their early adulthood or midlife are more likely to see their cognitive abilities decline once they get past their 50s, a new study claims.
Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the study from researchers at the University of Luxembourg looked at the circumstances of 12,000 people in 11 countries.
Each volunteer was assessed for their memory and thinking skills and this was cross-referenced with their work histories and data from economic downturns between 1959 and 2003.
The study found that men had worse cognitive skills if they lived through a recession in their mid to late 40s.
In women, those that experienced the stresses of recession between the ages of 25 and 44 were found to have worse cognitive abilities in their 50s. This group was more likely to have worked low status or part-time jobs.
Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said that while the study suggests that the work people do throughout their lives impacts on their memory and brain functions in later life, it cannot categorically prove that cognitive decline and recessions are linked.
"These findings lend more weight to the theory that mental activity may help people maintain their cognitive abilities as they grow older, but it’s not clear what other factors may have played a part in these results," he said.
"One drawback of this research is that the people involved only had their cognition measured once, and only in later life, meaning it’s not possible to know how far their abilities declined over time."
Dr Ridley added that it should also be remembered that none of the people in the study had dementia, but understanding factors which could be linked to a decline to cognitive functions is important if a cure is to be found.