Older adult interacting with ElliQ robot
ElliQ is an empathetic care companion designed for older adults aging independently at home. (Image courtesy of Intuition Robotics)

A downward socioeconomic status change was associated with the highest loss of dementia-free years in people 75 years old and up. By contrast, improvements in socioeconomic status during life were linked with the longest period of dementia-free years during individuals’ lifespans, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open on Tuesday.

The medical community already knows there’s a link between dementia and socioeconomic status, but the role of transitions is not well studied.

Researchers looked at data from 9,186 people 65 and up from 31 different areas in Japan between August 2010 and December 2016.  The team looked at the risk of dementia and how that corresponded with a loss or gain or dementia-free periods in a person’s lifespan. 

Of the participants, a little more than half were men and the average age at the start of the study was about 74 years old. During the follow-up period, 800 people developed dementia.

Investigators broke up the people into several socioeconomic status groups. For example, those in upward transition had low childhood socioeconomic status and the second-lowest education level, but the highest household income later in life. People with stable high socioeconomic status had high socioeconomic status throughout their lives; upper-middle transition was stable upper to middle socioeconomic changes during their lives. Lower-middle was the most common transition pattern (those who had lower status earlier on then rose to middle socioeconomic status later in life), while those with downward transition had higher socioeconomic status and education earlier in life but lower income later in life. Stable low transition was defined as people who had low socioeconomic status throughout their lives. 

Compared with lower-middle socioeconomic status, the lowest risk of dementia was observed for upward transition followed by stable-high, downward, and stable-low transitions. There wasn’t an association of upper-middle transition with risk of dementia.

The greatest increases in dementia-free years in the lifespan were also associated with upward socioeconomic changes, and downward transition was associated with the largest loss in lifetime dementia-free years at 75 years or older, the data showed.

“Upward transitions were associated with lower risk of dementia and increases in length of dementia-free periods over the life course, whereas the reverse was true for downward transitions,” the authors wrote.