Urban planning can protect the cognitive health of aging populations

Photo: ALETIA/DepositPhotos

Declining cognitive function is a serious concern for aging populations. America’s demographics have steadily aged – by 2050, 90 million Americans adults will be over 65, nearly double the current elderly population. As Americans age, protecting cognitive function will become an even greater concern. A new study suggests that the neighborhoods in which older people live can help preserve their functioning, a finding that could impact future urban planning and social policy.

Three studies from the University of Michigan present new findings on “communities for cognitive aging”. For the first study, lead author Jessica Finlay interviewed 125 seniors in the Minneapolis area. She asked them how they lived and socialized within their communities, also considering their levels of cognitive functioning. The qualitative data from this first study helped shape the quantitative surveys to follow.

In the second study, Professor Michael Esposito used data from an ongoing study of 30,000 subjects. Known as the REGARDS study, the participants have been followed regularly by researchers over the past 15 years. The large dataset displayed “what environmental conditions people with higher cognitive function scores had in common and what external conditions people who had lower cognitive function scores had in common,” according to a statement. Senior centers and organizations, parks, recreation centers and walkable destinations were all associated with better cognitive health for those living and aging nearby.

A third study looked at “stimulation centers,” such as museums and other cultural sites. However, the cognitive advantages are not found in the same way in the population. The researchers found that “intellectually stimulating places have a greater protective benefit for white adults than for older black adults.” This is likely due to access issues and the way resources are allocated under current urban planning and social policy. Esposito noted, “It’s not a one-size-fits-all conclusion. We find that access to these neighborhood sites diverges along different axes of power and privilege, including race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

With Alzheimer’s disease an active and important area of ​​research right now, there are other ways for populations to prepare for an influx of older people. Smartly composed neighborhoods could provide protective benefits, but to be most equitable and effective, policymakers will need to prioritize access and funding for all seniors and their communities.

Three new studies suggest that the neighborhoods in which people age may protect cognitive health.

Older people and urban planning

Photo: VVOENNYY/DepositPhotos

h/t: [Michigan News]

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