Understanding how the neighbourhood environment influences brain and cognitive health in older adults

Year: July 1, 2016


Program Overview:

With an increasing ageing population, finding ways to maintain cognitive health and prevent or delay dementia is an undisputed national public health priority. Dementia is the leading cause of disability burden and the second leading cause of overall burden of disease for Australians aged 65+.

Currently there are no pharmacotherapies that can prevent the onset of dementia, although lifestyle interventions, such as engagement in physical activity, hold promise. To yield large-scale, sustainable effects on behaviours that benefit brain and cognitive health (e.g., socializing, physical activity), interventions need to involve urban planning, transportation, residential age care, and health sectors and aim to create community environments that support and promote such behaviours in entire populations.

Although there is evidence that walkable neighbourhoods (typified by a large number of services, interconnected street networks and higher residential density) promote physical activity and socialising in older adults, no studies have systematically examined whether and how aspects of walkable neighbourhoods may affect brain and cognitive health. We propose to use open-source objective data to quantify the neighbourhood characteristics of 1,112 older residents (60+ years) of Melbourne and Perth from the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) Flagship Study of Ageing, the largest prospective study in Australia to examine factors predicting Alzheimer’s Disease.

By combining information from the AIBL study with information on objectively-assessed characteristics of the residential neighbourhoods of AIBL participants, we will examine whether neighbourhood characteristics such as residential density, access to parks, access to public transport, and the presence of various amenities in the neighbourhood, are related to the level and changes in cognitive function and relevant biological factors (e.g., brain volume).

We will also examine the extent to which these relationships are explained by engagement in physical activity, and whether they vary in people that vary in genetic risk of dementia. In partnership with the Planning Institute Australia and Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, this evidence will contribute to informing urban planning and aged care policy and practice that could have sustainable, population-wide effects on the prevention and delay of dementia.

DCRC Grant Recipient 2016

Other team members:

Prof Ester Cerin, Australian Catholic University
Dr Stephanie Rainey-Smith, Edith Cowan University;
Ms Kirsty Kelly, Planning Institute Australia;
Ms Catherine Thompson, Dept of Health and Human Services