A federal nutrition program for low-income people not only can be a source of much-needed food and nutrition but could also slow memory decline in older adults, according to a new study.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program offers income assistance to people in poverty to allow them access to nutritious foods and to still have money left over to pay for other basic needs.
Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health recently released the results of a study of SNAP. Participants enrolled in the program from 1996-2016 showed two fewer years of cognitive aging than nonusers over a 10-year span.
Researchers measured participants’ memory every two years for 20 years. Participants performed various tests, like recalling words on a list and answering questions about what they can remember in their daily lives.
The study showed that SNAP users had more chronic conditions, like obesity and diabetes, and lower baseline memory scores than nonusers, but they had slower rates of declining memory.
“Improving one’s nutritional intake, general food security, all of these have been linked to better cognitive functioning,” Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia, wrote. “When you have this extra money to spend on food, it will free up another bulk of money that you could use for something else. Decreasing the financial strain potentially could also help with brain function because we’ve shown that if you feel financially stressed, it would impact brain integrity.”
The study included 3,555 SNAP-eligible participants, 15.7% of which actually used the service.
According to the National Council on Aging, up to 5 million seniors meet the requirements for SNAP, but many are unaware they can enroll. This results in $6.24 billion in SNAP benefits that go unclaimed each year.
To qualify for the service, older adults must meet certain requirements regarding income, assets and citizenship. Benefits can include deductions on earned income, dependent care, medical expenses and more.
Older adults who want to enroll in SNAP benefits can visit their designated state agency website to see if they qualify.