Neighborhood Environment and Cognition in Older Adults: A Systematic Review

Am J Prev Med. 2017 Aug;53(2):241-251. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.02.013. Epub 2017 Apr 25.


Context: Some evidence suggests that treating vascular risk factors and performing mentally stimulating activities may delay cognitive impairment onset in older adults. Exposure to a complex neighborhood environment may be one mechanism to help delay cognitive decline.

Evidence acquisition: PubMed, Web of Science, and ProQuest Dissertation and Theses Global database were systematically reviewed, identifying 25 studies published from February 1, 1989 to March 5, 2016 (data synthesized, May 3, 2015 to October 7, 2016). The review was restricted to quantitative studies focused on: (1) neighborhood social and built environment and cognition; and (2) community-dwelling adults aged ≥45 years.

Evidence synthesis: The majority of studies were cross-sectional, U.S.-based, and found at least one significant association. The diversity of measures and neighborhood definitions limited the synthesis of findings in many instances. Evidence was moderately strong for an association between neighborhood SES and cognition, and modest for associations between neighborhood demographics, design, and destination accessibility and cognition. Most studies examining effect modification found significant associations, with some evidence for effect modification of the neighborhood SES-cognition association by individual-level SES. No studies had low risk of bias and many tested multiple associations that increased the chance of a statistically significant finding. Considering the studies to date, the evidence for an association between neighborhood characteristics and cognition is modest.

Conclusions: Future studies should include longitudinal measures of neighborhood characteristics and cognition; examine potential effect modifiers, such as sex and disability; and study mediators that may help elucidate the biological mechanisms linking neighborhood environment and cognition.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control*
  • Environment Design*
  • Humans
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Participation
  • Urban Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data