Our cognitive abilities begin to decline with age, including short-term working memory, processing speed, retrieval of memories/information, attention, and problem-solving.

During your lifetime, you will experience gradual declines in cognitive abilities. However, rapid and progressive cognitive declines usually indicate dementia, which is not part of healthy aging.

Specific interventions can slow down cognitive decline in elderly individuals, such as staying socially, mentally, and physically active and adopting the correct dietary habits. 

Few studies have investigated how the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) affects older people’s cognitive health.

This study investigated the associations between SNAP use and memory decline among SNAP-eligible US older adults.

As part of the Health & Retirement Study, participants aged 50+ who were eligible for SNAP in 1996 were included. Participants’ SNAP eligibility was based on federal criteria, and participants self-reported whether they utilized SNAP.

The researchers assessed the memory function of SNAP users and non-users using a composite score every two years between 1996 and 2016. In addition, the researchers modeled the probability of using SNAP based on demographic and health variables to account for preexisting differences in characteristics.

Using linear mixed-effects models, the researchers then modeled the trajectory of memory function for SNAP users and non-users using IP weighting and propensity score matching. All models accounted for study attrition.

15.7% of 3,555 SNAP participants were using it at baseline. SNAP users had a lower socioeconomic status and more chronic conditions than non-users and were more likely to be lost to follow-up.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called Food Stamps, is one of the nation’s most critical anti-hunger programs. In 2021, SNAP helped over 41 million low-income Americans afford a nutritionally adequate diet.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) supports low-income working families, older adults (over 60 years old), people with disabilities living on stable incomes, and other low-income individuals and households. 

More than one-third of SNAP participants live with older adults or people with disabilities, while two-thirds are in families with children. Aside from unemployment insurance, SNAP is one of the most responsive federal programs that provide additional assistance during recessions and afterward.

With SNAP, the federal government pays the total cost of benefits and splits the administration cost with the states that run it. SNAP operates in 50 states.

Results of the Study

According to the researcher’s multivariable IP-weighted models (N=3,555), SNAP users had worse memory scores at baseline but had a slower rate of memory decline compared to non-users (annual decline rate was -0.038 standardized units [95%CI=-0.044, -0.032] for users and -0.046 [95%CI=-0.049, -0.043] for non-users).

The results of the PS-matched sample (N=1,014) were slightly more robust (the annual decline rate was -0.046 units for users and -0.060 units for non-users). In other words, the researchers found that SNAP recipients had about two fewer years of cognitive aging than non-users over ten years.

The study finds that SNAP use is associated with slower memory decline, even after adjusting for preexisting differences and differential attrition.

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