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Mother’s education and late-life disparities in memory and dementia risk among US military veterans and non-veterans



Adverse childhood socioeconomic status (cSES) predicts higher late-life risk of memory loss and dementia. Veterans of U.S. wars are eligible for educational and economic benefits that may offset cSES disadvantage. We test whether cSES disparities in late-life memory and dementia are smaller among veterans than non-veterans.


Data came from US-born men in the 1995-2014 biennial surveys of the Health and Retirement Study (n=7916 born 1928-1956, contributing n=38 381 cognitive assessments). Childhood SES was represented by maternal education. Memory and dementia risk were assessed with brief neuropsychological assessments and proxy reports. Military service (veteran/non-veteran) was evaluated as a modifier of the effect of maternal education on memory and dementia risk. We employed linear or logistic regression models to test whether military service modified the effect of maternal education on memory or dementia risk, adjusted for age, race, birthplace and childhood health.


Low maternal education was associated with worse memory than high maternal education (β = -0.07 SD, 95% CI -0.08 to -0.05), while veterans had better memory than non-veterans (β = 0.03 SD, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.04). In interaction analyses, maternal education disparities in memory were smaller among veterans than non-veterans (difference in disparities = 0.04 SD, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.08, p = 0.006). Patterns were similar for dementia risk.


Disparities in memory by maternal education were smaller among veterans than non-veterans, suggesting military service and benefits partially offset the deleterious effects of low maternal education on late-life cognitive outcomes.

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