Neighbourhood greenery and safety may lower dementia risk


Living in a neighbourhood with more greenery and lower crime rates could be linked to reduced risk factors for dementia, according to a study led by researchers from Monash University.

Published in Preventive Medicine Reports, the Australian study investigated how neighbourhood characteristics may influence dementia risk and cognitive health.

Researchers found that living closer to green spaces and experiencing lower levels of crime were associated with fewer modifiable dementia risk factors. Specifically, the study revealed that residing farther away from green spaces was comparable to being older by about 2.5 years in terms of dementia risk factors. Similarly, each doubling of crime rates was akin to a decline in memory scores equivalent to ageing three years.

These associations were particularly notable in areas with lower socioeconomic status (SES). The study considered greenspace data across Australia and crime data specifically from Victoria, where it was readily available.

Senior author Associate Professor Matthew Pase from Monash University’s School of Psychological Sciences and the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health highlighted that earlier research had already indicated a higher prevalence of dementia among disadvantaged individuals.

“In 2022, we observed that individuals in lower SES areas had more dementia risk factors and poorer memory performance,” said Associate Professor Pase. “Such findings motivated us to explore the specific neighbourhood characteristics associated with dementia risk and cognition.”

The study focused on significant modifiable dementia risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and physical inactivity.

“Living close to greenspace may encourage or permit people to exercise more (e.g. walk or run) and also socialise (e.g., talk with locals in a park),” explained Associate Professor Pase. “It may also limit environmental stressors such as air pollution and noise.”

The study emphasised that proximity to green spaces mattered more than the overall amount of greenery in an area. This suggests that having numerous small parks accessible to more people might be more beneficial than having one large park located farther away.

Regarding crime rates, Associate Professor Pase suggested that higher crime rates might deter individuals from outdoor activities and socialising, potentially leading to behaviours associated with dementia.

The research underscores the importance of policy interventions at the neighbourhood level to address social determinants of health. Dr Marina Cavuoto, a senior research fellow and clinical neuropsychologist involved in the study, emphasised the need for collaboration between the health and non-health sectors to promote equitable and sustainable health initiatives.

While the study provided valuable insights, Associate Professor Pase stressed the need for further research to better understand these relationships. In the meantime, he encouraged individuals to focus on maintaining healthy behaviours within their control, such as managing blood pressure, staying physically active, and nurturing mental health. Additionally, he highlighted the importance of seeking support from family, friends and healthcare professionals to overcome barriers to healthy living.

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