In a new study, researchers found that early-life adversity can have long-term effects on people’s memory and thinking in later life.
They showed that experiencing family financial hardship in early life, and poorer childhood health predicts greater memory and thinking decline in later life.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Oxford.
Previous research has suggested that early-life experiences play an important role in mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, with exposure to early life adversity linked to a range of aspects of our lifestyle.
There’s limited research, however, on the influences, early-life experiences have on how memory and thinking skills decline later in life.
In the study, the team tested 15,309 volunteers, including over 5,000 ex-civil servants.
Using questionnaires, the study volunteers answered questions about their childhood concerning their family socioeconomic status, their own health and whether they were the victim of abuse.
The researchers then looked at volunteer’s scores on a wide range of memory and thinking tests, including verbal fluency in mid-to later life.
They found three different patterns of memory and thinking, which reflect resilience to cognitive decline, gradual age-related decline, and rapid cognitive decline.
The results showed fewer years of education, having experienced family financial hardship in early life, and poorer childhood health predicted a greater decline in memory and thinking skills.
The team says the socioeconomic status is closely intertwined with many aspects of people’s lifestyles and is particularly associated with people’s risk of various health conditions as they age.
This research suggests that even in childhood, these experiences have a far-reaching and important influence on cognitive performance.
The team also found key differences between men and women, with women more likely to be in the resilient group for commonly used screening tests that measure a range of memory and thinking skills.
This research adds to growing evidence that suggests people need to protect brain health throughout life, just as they do with heart health.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Ruby Tsang from the University of Oxford.
The study was presented at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Virtual Conference.
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