You Are Where You Live
How and where we live and what we do affects our health.
British research shows that people who live in disadvantaged areas suffer poorer mental and physical health as they age than do their wealthier counterparts. Two studies examined individuals living in areas suffering economic deprivation; the first focused on 7,000 participants aged 52 and over and their cognitive function, while the second looked at 4,148 people aged 60 and over and their levels of mobility. Research was conducted at the Peninsula Medical School, South West England.
Both studies indicated significant differences in cognitive function and mobility of those individuals living in deprived areas versus those living in the most advantaged neighborhoods. Dr. Ian Laing, of the Peninsula Medical School led the studies. "These findings show the first direct links between the state of a neighborhood and levels of functioning among its middle-aged and older residents. For both men and women, those living in deprived areas have poorer cognitive function and higher rates of mobility problems than their counterparts in 'better' areas," Laing said publicly.
Laing said the research indicates that strong social reform must occur to ensure equal care for all. "Clearly the type of neighborhood you live in has an important effect on your health in later life. This underlines how important it is for local and central government to provide adequate levels of health and social care where they are most needed—in our poorest communities," Laing said.
The results of this research are consistent with previous studies conducted in the United States, says Daniela E. Schreier, Psy.D., a department faculty member at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology Clinical Counseling M.A. program. “We know that a lower socio-economic status (SES) means less access to health care facilities, less recreational space, and worse insurance plans,” Schreier explains. “The disadvantaged don’t have enough access to healthcare, and often it is the immigrants and people of color that suffer most. They may not have insurance, and by the time they get to the ER for care, it may be too late. There is no prevention taking place.”
Schreier also serves as lead psychologist at S.M.A.R.T. Living, LLC (Smart Living and Relaxation Therapy™), and is a certified stress management consultant. She specializes in, among other issues, diversity and racism (http://www.drschreier.com).
“In disadvantaged areas, are no health food stores or gyms, no organized sports for the old and young, but there are a lot of McDonald’s and Burger Kings. There is a lot cheap junk food available to the disadvantaged,” which will affect their health in the long run, affecting future mobility, Schreier says.
As for the lower rates of cognitive function, Schreier says that individuals need mental stimulation to prevent cognitive decline. “When people have gone to college, they are trained to use their minds, to read more, and as they get older, they continue to keep their minds busy,” she tells demo dirt. “It is not that the less educated are predisposed to this, but working in a factory, for instance, will not stimulate the mind. The more highly educated read more, keep their brains busy, so they are at a lower risk for dementia.”
When one is in a dead-end job, it can be difficult to challenge the mind, as hopelessness and depression may set in, Schreier explains. “An unfulfilling job means that someone is not satisfied with his career, and works just to bring home a buck,” she explains. “There is less stimulation, and then they come home and do what? Maybe watch television.”
Could environmental health hazards in poor neighborhoods have an effect on the physical and mental health of its inhabitants? Yes, says Schreier. “The poor are not listened to. If there are rats, or mice in the apartment building, or toxins in the water, no one listens to them to take care of it. There sets in a helplessness, a hopelessness,” she says.
In richer areas, she says, social problems will be less likely to reach a point that will affect the health of the population. “For people in affluent neighborhoods, if there is a problem, things get done. Those people may be doctors and lawyers, and if they complain about toxins in the water or another problem, they will be listened to,” Schreier explains.
The connection between mental, physical, and emotional health has been well-established, Schreier notes, citing a currently ongoing longitudinal study on gifted children, initially conducted by the late American psychologist Lewis Madison Terman, which began in the 1920’s. The children who participated in that study, Schreier explains, are today in their 90s. Terman found that gifted children grew up to be healthier, more socially connected, emotionally balanced, and professionally successful than their average counterparts.
“The Terman study indicates that the negative stereotype of the mentally gifted as weak, socially awkward geeks is wrong,” Schreier says. “The gifted grew up to better physically developed, live healthier lifestyles, have great fulfilling careers, and good social relationships, and became integrated within their communities.”
This relates to the lower cognitive function and lower mobility of the disadvantaged, the psychologist says, because “the poor feel disconnected, distressed, they need to avoid getting shot or raped on the way home, they become depressed, bored, frustrated, and feel helpless. They have less access to education which would give them access to fulfilling careers.”
Where we live is a major factor in what kind of career we go into, and the career, which will affect emotional and mental stimulation, ultimately may affect future cognitive development or decline. Mobility in a disadvantaged neighborhood can be thwarted by crime or lack of recreational space and activities, and affect physical health as well.
More than culture, Schreier maintains, “Socio-economic status is the big invisible American variable.”
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