Level of and Change in Cognitive Functioning Among Dutch Older Adults: Does Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status Matter?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal BIG 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jonathan WOERN, University of Cologe, Research Training Group SOCLIFE, Germany
Lea ELLWARDT, University of Cologne, Germany
Martijn HUISMAN, VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands
Marja AARTSEN, VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands
Along with 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 social, intellectual and physical 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 a structural equation modeling approach, linear growth curves of Mini Mental State Examination-assessments of older adults aged 57 to 88 years at baseline in 1995 were calculated. Individual socioeconomic characteristics were controlled to account for selection into neighborhoods.

Preliminary results suggest that the effect of neighborhood socioeconomic status depends on the degree of urbanity. While we did not find an effect of neighborhood socioeconomic status on the level of cognitive functioning in urban areas, it seems to make a difference in rural areas. Specifically, in rural areas, the level of older adults' cognitive functioning tends to be higher in neighborhoods with a higher (vs. lower) socioeconomic status. No association between neighborhood socioeconomic status and change in cognitive functioning was found.