How neighborhoods can protect — or harm — older adults’ cognitive health – The Source

Does your neighborhood help protect your cognitive health as you age?

A growing body of research led by scientists at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Michigan suggests older adults’ access to civic and social organizations, cultural centers — such as museums and art galleries — and recreation centers may help protect against cognitive decline as a person ages; a theory they have called “cognability.”

In a recent study, “Cognability: an ecological theory of neighborhoods and cognitive aging,” published in Social Science & Medicine, the researchers found evidence that these neighborhood features can predict older adults’ cognitive function scores.

“The main goal of this project was to examine a potential connection between older adults’ cognitive health and the neighborhood environments in which they reside,” said study co-author Michael Esposito, assistant professor of sociology in Arts & Sciences at WashU.

The fact that we’re living in a country where people’s access to be healthy varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, that health is conditional on where you live, is important to demonstrate.

Michael Esposito

“The fact that we’re living in a country where people’s access to be healthy varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, that health is conditional on where you live, is important to demonstrate,” he said.

The team also ran models to see if differences in cognitive function within neighborhoods existed by race, gender and education (a proxy for socioeconomic status), but these early models didn’t find significant differences.

Future research will focus more specifically on how neighborhoods and cognitive health might vary by race, ethnicity, gender, education and wealth, researchers said.

“This is really groundbreaking work. Cognability helps people to think about their neighborhood environment with respect to their cognitive health,” said study co-author Philippa Clarke, professor of epidemiology at the UM School of Public Health and research professor at ISR’s Survey Research Center .

“Most research on cognitive function and dementia focuses on mitigating individual risk factors, but cognability redirects attention to those features in the surrounding environment that may go a long way to mitigating cognitive decline with aging.”

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