Level of and change in cognitive functioning among Dutch older adults: does neighborhood socioeconomic status matter?

Jonathan Wörn, University of Cologne
Lea Ellwardt, University of Cologne
Martijn Huisman, VU University Medical Center
Marja Aartsen, NOVA Ageing Research and Housing Studies

Due to demographic changes, issues of age-related cognitive decline and impaired cognitive functioning have become more prevalent. In attempts to identify predictors of cognitive functioning (i.e. the abilities to attend, think, reason and to recall information) in older adults, researchers have looked into features of the residential neighborhood of older adults, especially neighborhood socioeconomic status. Yet, previous findings have been inconclusive due to cross-sectional designs of the majority of studies. Since a true contextual neighborhood effect requires differences in the strength of cognitive decline over time, this study goes beyond the cross-sectional examination of level differences in cognitive functioning and additionally investigates whether the socioeconomic status of a neighborhood also predicts the strength of decline in cognitive functioning over time. We argue that neighborhoods with a higher (vs. lower) socioeconomic status are more likely to provide experiences that are beneficial for cognitive functioning, especially opportunities for physical, social, and intellectual activities. Official statistics on neighborhood socioeconomic status were combined with data from the third, fourth and fifth wave of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam, covering a 6-year period. Using multilevel and growth curve analyses, cognitive functioning assessments of older adults aged 57 to 88 years at baseline in 1995 were analyzed. Individual socioeconomic characteristics were controlled to account for selection into neighborhoods. Preliminary analyses suggest that the level of older adults' cognitive functioning, but not its change, differs by neighborhood socioeconomic status. Furthermore, the level differences in cognitive functioning are strongly diminished once individual socioeconomic status is taken into account. This implies that there is no contextual neighborhood effect. Rather, the socioeconomic status of a neighborhood indicates that a neighborhood is composed by individuals with a certain risk of low cognitive functioning.

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Presented in Session 89: Health in contexts