Food Stamps Study: SNAP Benefits Slow Memory Decline in Senior Recipients

Senior couple buying fresh vegetables at the local market.

The U.S. government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is designed to help low-income Americans pay for food, but it might have an additional benefit: slowing memory decline among seniors.

That’s one of the findings in a new study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, released last week. Researchers found that older Americans who qualified for and used SNAP benefits had about two fewer years of cognitive aging over a 10-year period compared with those who didn’t use SNAP, Science Daily reported.

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is a federal program that provides food-purchasing assistance to low-income households. It is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture but administered at the state level.

The Columbia study was published online in “Neurology,” the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. It evaluated 3,555 SNAP-eligible individuals. Participants’ average age was 66, and 559 were SNAP users and 2,996 were eligible but didn’t use SNAP.

As Science Daily noted, researchers measured memory function every two years over two decades. Researchers asked participants to complete memory and thinking tests, such as recalling a list of words and answering questions about what they could remember in their daily lives.

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The study revealed that SNAP users had worse memory scores when the study began but experienced memory decline at a slower rate than non-users over the course of the study. Compared with non-SNAP users, participants who who used SNAP had about two fewer years of cognitive aging over the course of 10 years.

“While SNAP’s primary goal is to reduce food insecurity among low-income households and to increase access to higher quantity and quality foods, eating healthier may also benefit brain health,” Dr. Peiyi Lu, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia’s Mailman School, said in a statement. “SNAP may also reduce stress and overall financial hardship, which has been linked to premature cognitive aging and reduced brain health. Future research should explore these underlying impacts.”

The term “cognitive aging” refers to age-related changes in the ability to think, learn, remember, plan and solve problems, CNN reported. Health problem such as high blood pressure that are tied to poor diet and lifestyle choices can damage areas of thebrain responsible for memory and thinking. Seniors can lower their risk by eating healthier foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. SNAP benefits give them the buying power to afford more of these kinds of foods.

“With the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias expected to increase, this low participation [in SNAP] is a huge, missed opportunity for dementia prevention,” senior study author Dr. Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School, said in a statement.

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From a financial standpoint, this is a particularly good time to sign up for SNAP benefits. As previously reported by GOBankingRates, beneficiaries will get a 12.5% cost-of-living adjustment for fiscal year 2023. The COLA kicked in on Oct. 1 and will run through Sept. 30, 2023. For the vast majority of Americans, the increase translates into an extra $104 a month in the maximum allotment for a household of four.

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