Local greenery and low crime rates can reduce risk factors for dementia: research

Living in areas with shorter distances to green space and lower crime rates is associated with having fewer modifiable risk factors for dementia, according to research led by Monash University.

The Australian study, published in Preventive Medicine Reports, examined neighborhood characteristics associated with dementia risk and cognition.

It found that doubling the distance to green space was equivalent to being around 2.5 years older, in terms of risk factors for dementia. Each twofold increase in crime was approximately equivalent to a decrease in memory score attributable to a three-year increase in age.

This relationship was especially evident among people living in areas of lower socio-economic status (SES).

The green space aspect involved people across Australia, while the crime aspect only looked at Victoria where that data was readily available.

Senior author, Associate Professor Matthew Pase, from Monash University School of Psychological Sciences and the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, said previous research had already shown that dementia disproportionately affects the disadvantaged.

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

Associate Professor Pase said the new research included some of the strongest modifiable risk factors for dementia, including high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and physical inactivity.

“Living near greenery can encourage or allow people to exercise more (for example walking or running) and also socialize (for example talking to locals in a park),” he said. “It can also reduce environmental stressors such as air pollution and noise.

“In our latest research, the proximity of greenery was more important than the absolute amount of greenery in an area. In other words, having many small parks that are closer to more people could potentially be better than having one large park that is further away.”

Associate Professor Pase said higher crime rates could potentially trigger behaviors linked to dementia.

“People who live in high-crime areas are therefore less likely to exercise, go out and socialize in public places,” he said. “Increased crime could also make it difficult to sleep and trigger potentially harmful coping behaviors such as smoking.

“Even the perception of crime can cause psychological stress, which we previously found could be associated with the risk of dementia. Another possibility is that higher education, which protects against dementia, may live in areas with low crime rates, although we adjusted for these factors in our analyses.”

The project was led by Dr Marina Cavuoto, now a senior research fellow and clinical neuropsychologist at the National Aging Research Institute in Melbourne, and adjunct senior research fellow at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health.

Researchers calculated the percentage of greenery for each zip code and the average distance to the nearest for residents. On average, people lived about 260 meters from the nearest green space. Crime data was obtained from the Crime Statistics Agency using data from the ABS.

Dr. Cavuoto said governments can help improve the situation.

“Policy interventions by different levels of government could address the social determinants of health at the neighborhood level,” she said. “Collaboration between health and non-health sectors such as environment, infrastructure and housing is needed to scale up fair and sustainable health promotion and dementia prevention.

“Programs that want to improve the modifiable risk factors for dementia must take into account the influence of neighborhood characteristics. If governments were to take action to improve access to parks and safety at a local level, this could encourage healthier lifestyles that could reduce risk factors for dementia.”

Associate Professor Pase said the results were for population averages and not individual people, so more research was needed to understand these relationships more thoroughly.

“Wherever people live, healthy behaviors such as controlling blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, correcting hearing problems, avoiding smoking, regular exercise, promoting mental health, avoiding or treating diabetes, are good sleep and social activity can all help,” he says. said.

“Individuals can start to address those factors that are easier to address and within their control. Individuals can also work with family, friends and health professionals to overcome some barriers, such as exercising in groups to help overcome safety concerns.