The association between community environment and cognitive function: a systematic review

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2015 Mar;50(3):351-62. doi: 10.1007/s00127-014-0945-6. Epub 2014 Aug 3.


Purposes: The aim of this study is to review the published evidence on the association between community environment and cognitive function in older people, focusing on the findings and a critique of the existing studies.

Methods: A literature search was conducted to identify studies linking the community environment and cognitive function in older people. The results and methodological factors, including the definition of community, individual level characteristics and the measurements of cognitive function and community environment were extracted from each study. The measurements of community environment were mainly categorized into two types: compositional, generated by aggregating individual and household data (community-level socioeconomic status, deprivation index) and contextual, targeting at the features of built or social environment in local areas (green space, street conditions, crime rate).

Results: Fourteen of the fifteen studies used compositional measurements such as community-level socioeconomic status and deprivation index and significant associations were found in eleven studies. Some individual level factors (ethnicity, genotype and socioeconomic status) were found to modify the association between community environment and cognitive function. Few contextual measurements were included in the existing studies. A conceptual framework for the pathway from community environment to cognitive function of older people is provided in this review.

Conclusions: To disentangle the additional effect of place from individual risk factors and investigate the casual direction of community environment and cognition in later life, longitudinal studies with measurements targeting built and social environments of community and change of cognitive functions over time need to be included in future studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Environment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors