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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Recessions May Contribute to Mental Decline Later

European review looked at 12,000 people who'd lived through economic downturns

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Nov. 21, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Recessions can have long-lasting effects, and they may not be just financial.

A new study has found that people affected by an economic downturn in middle age may be at risk for mental decline later in life.

Researchers examined data from 12,000 people aged 50 and older in 11 European countries.

Men aged 50 to 74 who lived through four or more recessions by the time they were in their mid- to late-40s had lower scores on mental abilities such as memory, speech and math than those who did not experience a recession, the investigators found.

Their findings were published online Nov. 20 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The impact of recessions on women appeared to occur at an earlier age, according to a journal news release.

Job loss and having to take part-time work or lower-paying, lower-status jobs may explain the toll that recessions can take on people's mental abilities, suggested researcher Anja Leist, at the University of Luxembourg, and colleagues.

Previous research has suggested that good working conditions may help people build up a mental "reserve," which in turn affects mental performance at a later age.

Although the study found an association between economic recessions in mid-life and later declines in thinking skills, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

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