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Research Highlights

A sudden wealth loss may lead to cognitive decline

Experiencing a negative wealth shock, defined as a sudden loss of 75% or more in total wealth, was linked to cognitive decline among older adults in the United States and China, but not in England or Mexico, according to an NIA-funded study. The results, published in Lancet Healthy Longevity, suggest that factors such as government policies and social safety nets may account for cross-national differences in the adverse health effects of negative wealth shocks.

Ceramic piggybank looking sad, with two bandages forming a cross on its side

There is a positive association between household wealth and cognitive health outcomes in later life, with poorer outcomes among people with lower socioeconomic status. However, the link between negative wealth shock and cognitive function in later life had not been examined. To look more closely at a potential relationship, and whether the association varied in countries with different income levels, University of Michigan scientists in this study examined data from four NIA-funded longitudinal studies of aging: the Health and Retirement Study in the United States and international partner studies in China, England, and Mexico.

The team included information from 9,465 participants who were 65 or older at the outset of their respective studies. The researchers examined participants’ scores from the Harmonized Cognitive Assessment Protocol, a tool used to study later-life cognitive function across countries. Next, they determined whether the participants had experienced negative wealth shocks. In their analysis, the scientists found that experiencing a wealth loss of 75% or more in the United States or China was associated with a lower level of subsequent cognitive function, but this was not the case in England or Mexico.

These study findings suggest negative wealth shocks may be a potential risk factor for cognitive decline. The researchers note some limitations of the study, including possible errors in wealth measurement, and respondents experiencing declines in cognitive function may face problems with money management that could then lead to loss of wealth. The authors also underscore several strengths of the study, including its large, representative sample. Future studies may explore differences in government policies and social safety nets that contribute to variations across countries.

This research was supported in part by NIA grants U01AG009740-35, P30AG012846-26, R01AG069128-04, R01AG070953-04, and K99AG070274-02.

These activities relate to NIA’s AD+ADRD Research Implementation Milestones:

  • 9.M, “Develop diagnostics/biomarkers in asymptomatic individuals.”
  • 9.N, “Determining the value of screening for clinically relevant cognitive impairment in the absence of a cognitive complaint.”

Reference: Cho TC, et al. Negative wealth shocks in later life and subsequent cognitive function in older adults in China, England, Mexico, and the USA, 2012-18: A population-based, cross-nationally harmonised, longitudinal study. Lancet Healthy Longevity. 2023;4(9):e461-e469. doi: 10.1016/S2666-7568(23)00113-7.

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