Food insecurity in older adults is linked to dementia, worsening memory and faster memory decline, according to a report published this week in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers set out to understand how food security affects cognitive health including Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The researchers examined a group of United States residents ages 50 and older. The data was derived from people in 2013, and it measured their cognitive outcomes between 2014 and 2018. Participants in the study were placed into three groups: food secure, low food secure and very low food secure.

Having low food security was linked to being 1.38 times more likely to have dementia compared to food-secure older adults. People with very low food security were 1.37 times more likely to have dementia. Low and very low food security was also associated with lower memory levels and faster age-related memory decline, the researchers found. Of the 2,012 people studied, the mean age was 67.7 years old and 58.9% were women. In the group, 16.2% were non-Hispanic Black people and 69.2% were non-Hispanic white people. 

Overall, 18.4% of the people were food insecure: 10.3% experienced low food security and 8.1% experienced very low food security. About 11% of individuals aged 65 years or older in 2013 said they were food insecure. 

People with low and very low food security tended to be younger, more likely to be women, have fewer years of schooling, live in poverty, earn less, rent housing, have greater welfare support, and are non-Hispanic Black or Hispanic. People  experiencing low and very low food security were also less likely to be married, the data showed.

Another report on food insecurity in older adults was released over the summer. It found that memory decline can be quicker the more food-insecure a person is. That study supported other research findings showing similar results.