Even just feeling poor can make you old before your time, new research shows

A homeless man begging for money.
Photo by Andrew Aitchison

Being poor wears you down. Literally.

New research shows that extended periods of poverty are associated with decreased cognitive function in midlife.

For the study, a research team led by Dr. Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri of the University of Miami collected income data from more than 3,000 adults half a dozen times between 1985 and 2010. The researchers just published their results in the January 2017 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Poverty and perceived hardship may be important contributors to premature aging.
American Journal of Preventative Medicine

"Cumulative exposure to low income over two decades was strongly associated with worse cognitive function of a relatively young cohort," the researchers wrote in an accompanying discussion of the data.

"Poverty and perceived hardship may be important contributors to premature aging among disadvantaged populations."

In the study, poverty was defined as making less than two times the federal poverty level. In 2016, the federal poverty level was an income of $11,880 for a single person.

In 2010, the participants in the study underwent significant cognitive performance testing. Individuals who lived in poverty for the longest period of time performed "significantly worse" than individuals who didn't live in poverty at all over the course of the study.

Interestingly, participants who weren't technically poor but who felt like they were performed at a similarly low level.

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