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Rich, Poor See Similar Declines in Old Age

FRIDAY, Aug. 14 -- Socioeconomic status seems to make no difference in mental decline after the age of 70, according to new research.

The study, published in the Aug. 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, challenges claims that economic status and background have an impact on cognitive functioning among the elderly. Rather, the University of California, Los Angeles study found that rates of cognitive decline among people aged 70 and older depended on other factors and were similar across socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups.

"It has been known that cognitive performance at any given age appears to depend on demographic characteristics; the more educated, for instance, perform better," said lead investigator Dr. Arun Karlamangla, associate professor of medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, in a university news release. "But though there are differences in the level of performance you start with in your late 60s, this study's surprise is that the rate of decline in your 70s is the same for every group."

The study authors looked at data collected from 6,476 people born before 1924 who took part in the study of Assets and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old. Participants were tested five times between 1993 and 2002 on various memory and cognition tasks, including word recall, subtraction, attention, language and knowledge of current affairs.

The researchers found that cognitive decline depended on how active people were earlier in life, whether or not they were widowed or ever married, and how old they were. Other social factors appeared to have little impact.

"The most consistent predictors of faster declines in cognitive functioning were being old and being single," the study authors wrote.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on cognitive health.

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Posted: August 2009