How neighborhoods can protect—or hurt—the cognitive health of older adults – 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 that older adults’ access to civic and social organizations, cultural centers — such as museums and art galleries — and recreation centers can help protecting against cognitive decline as one ages; a theory they called “knowability”.

In a recent study, Cognability: An Ecological Theory of Neighborhoods and Cognitive Aging, published in Social Science & Medicine, researchers found evidence that these neighborhood characteristics can predict cognitive outcomes in older adults.

“The primary goal of this project was to examine the potential relationship between the cognitive health of older adults and the neighborhood environment in which they live,” said study co-author Michael Esposito, assistant professor of sociology in Arts and Sciences at WashU.

The fact that we live in a country where people’s access to health care varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, that health depends on where you live, is important to demonstrate.

Michael Esposito

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

The team also ran models to see if differences in cognitive function existed within neighborhoods by race, gender, and education (proxies for socioeconomic status), but these early models found no significant differences.

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

“This is truly groundbreaking work. Cognition helps people think about their neighborhood environment in terms of their cognitive health,” said study co-author Philippa Clark, professor of epidemiology in the UM School of Public Health and research professor in ISR’s Survey Research Center.

“Most research on cognitive function and dementia has focused on moderating individual risk factors, but cognition shifts attention to those features in the environment that can go a long way toward mitigating cognitive decline with aging.”

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