In a new study from the University of Michigan, researchers found that where older adults live may help protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
They found older adults whose neighborhoods are conducive to physical activity and socialization were about three years younger, in terms of cognitive health, than those who had very little access to exercise and socialization.
Those who had access to intellectually stimulating places such as museums, higher education campuses and libraries had about a five-year difference in cognitive age compared to those who had little to no access to such places.
In the first assessment, the team interviewed 125 older adults in the Minneapolis metropolitan area to learn about how those older adults lived in their communities.
They identified a connection between older adults’ cognitive health and proximity to places where they could socialize, exercise and visit intellectually stimulating places.
They then tested the observations in a much larger group, using results from an ongoing study of just over 30,000 people.
The researchers found that places of socialization that were more positively linked to protecting cognitive health were senior centers and organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars or racial or ethnic organizations.
Living in neighborhoods with high densities of parks, fitness and sports recreation centers, and walkable destinations were associated with better cognitive health.
In the study examining intellectually stimulating centers, the researchers found that museums and other cultural sites provided the best cognitive health benefit.
Moving forward, the team is looking at differences by person and by place—so for example, differences in protective cognitive benefits by men or women or nonbinary adults, by education levels and by race.
Understanding these differences might help inform community-level interventions that are more targeted to those who are most at risk, which include marginalized and underserved communities, who have higher rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s risk.
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The findings are published in the Journal of Aging and Health; Preventive Medicine; and Wellbeing, Space & Society. One author of the study is Jessica Finlay.
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