Kiely, K. M., Anstey, K. J., Butterworth, P.
The aim of this study was to investigate the within-person associations between the experience of financial hardship and cognitive performance throughout adulthood. Three waves of data provided by 6,343 participants (49% men) were analyzed from a representative community-based sample from Canberra, Australia (2003-2015). The outcome was a composite measure reflecting fluid cognitive abilities. Financial hardship was assessed by markers of scarcity (being unable to heat the home, missing meals, and going without other basic needs) and behavioral responses to hardship (pawning items and seeking help from community welfare organizations). Multivariable-adjusted fixed-effect regression models for panel data with robust standard errors tested time-dependent associations between measures of financial hardship and fluid cognitive abilities. Declines in cognitive performance coincided with the experience of scarcity (β = -0.07; standard error, 0.018). There was no association between behavioral responses to hardship and cognitive performance, and there was no difference in the associations across age cohorts or by sex. There was no evidence that mastery or mental health attenuated the time-dependent link between hardship and cognition. This study provides new evidence that the onset (shock) of financial hardship is a potent stressor associated with occasion-specific deficits in fluid cognitive abilities.