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There is a new link between low wealth and dementia, research finds

Socioeconomic deprivation associated with increased dementia risk, regardless of genetics

People who experience high socioeconomic deprivation are significantly more likely to develop dementia compared to people of better socioeconomic status, regardless of genetic risk, new research concludes.

A largescale study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in San Diego examined data from data from 196,368 participants’ records in UK Biobank whose genetic risk for developing dementia was assessed.

The researchers investigated the contribution of individual socioeconomic deprivation, such as low income and low wealth. They also looked at area-level socioeconomic deprivation, including rates of employment status, and rates of people who owned a car or home. They calculated risk of developing dementia, and compared these with genetic risk for dementia.

They found that deprivation, both linked to socioeconomic conditions of households and at area level, contributed to risk of dementia. The increased risk was particularly associated with people living in very disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

For participants with moderate or high genetic risk, living in a very deprived area is associated with even higher risk for developing dementia, even after adjusting for socioeconomic conditions in individual households.

Some participants had brain imaging data available. This indicated that socioeconomic deprivation both on the individual and the area level were linked to more damage to nerve fibres called white-matter, which enables communication between different areas of the brain.

Dr David Llewellyn, of the University of Exeter, said: “We have already established that people living in poverty and in deprived areas are more likely to develop dementia. Our new findings clarify the relationship between these environmental risk factors and people’s genetic makeup. Most cases of dementia are not inevitable, and we should be optimistic about the possibility of delaying or even preventing dementia altogether.”

“Our findings point to the importance of the conditions in which people live, work and age for their risk of developing dementia, particularly those who are already genetically more vulnerable,” said Matthias Klee, doctoral student at the University of Luxembourg and lead author of the study.

“Both individual health behaviors and non-influenceable living conditions are relevant to explain risk of dementia, regardless of genetic vulnerability. This knowledge opens new opportunities to reduce the number of people affected by dementia not only through public health interventions but also by improving socioeconomic conditions through policymaking.”

Date: 2 August 2022