Living close to green spaces may reduce risk of dementia

Living close to outdoor spaces and water sources can not only improve overall wellbeing, but it could also reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia.  

A preliminary study measuring the benefits of regularly visiting green spaces found that can reduce the risk of serious psychological distress which has been linked to dementia in later life.  

Researchers defined this as mental health problems which require treatment and have a moderate effect on someone’s ability to work, go to school and participate in social situations.  

‘Since we lack effective prevention methods or treatments for mild cognitive impairment and dementia, we need to get creative in how we look at these issues,’ said Solmaz Amiri, DDes, of Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane, Washington. ‘Our hope is that this study showing better mental health among people living close to parks and water will trigger other studies about how these benefits work and whether this proximity can help prevent or delay mild cognitive impairment and dementia.’ 

The study involved 42,980 people aged 65 and over living in urban areas in Washington, with green space identified as public parks, community gardens and cemeteries and blue space defined as lakes, reservoirs, large rivers and coasts.  

Participants then completed questionnaires to assess their mental health, rating their anxiety and depression symptoms on a scale of zero to five.  

Questions included how many days their productivity was at least halved by distress and how many times they have had to sought professional help, with scores ranging from zero to 24. Those who scored above 13 were considered to have serious psychological distress.  

70% of participants were found to live within half a mile of green space, while 60% lived close to blue space. These people had a 17% lower risk of experiencing serious distress compared to those living further away from outdoor spaces.  

1.3% of people living within half a mile of parks and lakes suffered with poor mental health but this rose to 1.5% among those living further afield.  

‘Our hope is that this study may help inform public health policies in the future, from where residential facilities are located to programs to improve mental health outcomes of people living in long-term care centers or nursing homes,’ Amiri added. 

The government has recently committed to ensuring all households live within 15 minutes of green or blue space in its new Environment Plan.  

Photo by Andrew Rivera


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