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Why being a cleaner, McDonald's worker or teaching assistant raises your risk of dementia

Why a cleaner, fast-food worker or teaching assistant could raise your risk of dementia: Study links low-paid careers to memory-depriving condition

  • Earning less than two-thirds of the average salary is linked to cognitive decline
  • Columbia University study looked at decline in about 2,900 adults in their 50s
  • Those with the lowest wages aged an extra year for every 10 they worked

Spending 10 years in a low-paying job could cause you to lose memory when you retire, research suggests.

Scientists at Columbia University in New York found that people in low-paid careers experience more rapid cognitive decline, which is often a precursor to dementia.

Their study compared the earnings of nearly 2,900 American adults in their 50s and 60s with how their brains aged over time.

People who received less two-thirds of the average wage suffered memory loss more quickly than peers with a better salary.

Such jobs would pay around $27,000 (£22,100) in the US, data suggests.

The average UK salary is even lower, meaning the threshold could be as low as £17,000/year.

Jobs that would fall into the bracket include entry-level cleaners, fast food workers and teaching assistants.

Average wages fell the fastest in more than two decades during the cost of living crisis in April.

Researchers from Columbia University in New York found that people in low-paid jobs have a faster cognitive decline, which can lead to dementia [stock image]


According to research from University College London, poor people are more likely to develop dementia.

England’s 20 percent most needy adults are 50 percent more likely to have severe memory loss than the richest 20 percent, a study finds.

The researchers analyzed 6,220 adults over the age of 65 born between 1902 and 1943.

The diagnosis of dementia was made by physicians and questionnaires assessing cognitive decline.

Study author Professor Andrew Steptoe said: ‘Our study confirms that the risk of dementia is lower in affluent older people compared to those who have less economic resources.

‘Many factors can play a role. Differences in healthy lifestyle and medical risk factors are relevant.

‘It could also be that better people have more social and cultural opportunities that keep them actively involved in the world.’

The findings were: published in JAMA Psychiatry in May 2018.

Around 900,000 people in the UK are thought to be living with dementia, and this percentage is expected to increase with an aging population.

In the US, the figure is about seven times higher, charities say.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at wages earned by nearly 3,000 people from 1992 to 2004.

All participants, who were in their 50s when the project began, were divided into three groups based on their earnings: those who always earned a low wage during the period, those who sometimes did, and those who never did.

Researchers then used memory tests to examine how quickly their brain speed had declined between 2004 and 2016.

The results showed that those who had consistently low wages during their career boom showed a significantly more rapid cognitive decline in later years.

Those with lower wages over the 12-year period saw a 10 percent more drop than those with better wages.

It was the equivalent of their brain aging by about an extra year over the course of a decade, experts calculated.

Lead scientist Dr Katrina Kezios said: ‘Continued exposure to low wages during peak earning years is associated with accelerated memory decline later in life.’

The study did not outline the reasons why low wages are linked to cognitive decline.

Cognitive decline causes a decline in memory, language, and problem-solving ability. Severe cognitive decline causes dementia.

But previous research has suggested it may be due to people earning low salaries and leading unhealthier lives.

This includes having a poor diet, smoking, and drinking more.

Lower-income individuals also tend to have poorer cardiovascular health and high rates of diabetes, which are other risk factors for dementia.

The researchers said further research is needed to explore how raising the minimum wage can reduce cognitive decline.

Senior author Dr Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri said: ‘Our findings suggest that social policies that improve the financial well-being of low-paid workers may be especially beneficial for cognitive health.

“Future work should thoroughly examine the incidence of dementia and excess years of cognitive aging that could be prevented under various hypothetical scenarios that would increase the minimum hourly wage.”