Where you live could increase your risk of dementia: study

People who live in more affluent areas have better memories and a lower risk of developing dementia over those who live in disadvantaged areas, says a Monash University study.

The study, published in Jama Network Open journal, analysed data collected between 2016 and 2020 from 4656 participants aged between 40 and 70 years without dementia and living in a cross-section of suburbs.  

Researchers found that higher neighbourhood-level socioeconomic status (n-SES) was associated with healthier cognitive states, underscoring the need for better facilities in disadvantaged areas to promote healthy lifestyle habits and reduce the risk of dementia.

It also found that the differences in memory between categories of neighbourhood-level SES were greater at older ages and among those with higher dementia risk scores.

According to the study: “Minimising these dementia risk factors [physical inactivity, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, and high body mass index] among individuals living in areas with lower neighbourhood-level SES may help to lower dementia risk in old age without altering memory performance in midlife.”

Read: Three surprising things that increase your risk of dementia

Beyond traditional dementia risk factors such as age, sex, education, blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol and physical activity, factors such as access to health care, green space, walkability, air and noise pollution, number and quality of schools, libraries, and leisure centres, crime and perceptions of safety, and social disorder and cohesion play a major part in dementia risk.

Often, the ‘favourable’ factors are more commonly found in affluent areas.

In addition, chronic stress over the life course and high levels of effort required to cope with multiple stressors may lead to earlier deterioration of biological systems, says lead author Associate Professor Matthew Pase.

Read: People living in rural areas may have lower dementia risk

“Socioeconomically disadvantaged groups who experience structural disadvantage, discrimination, and social and economic adversity may experience greater physiological demand to compensate, leading to early morbidity and mortality,” he adds.

Dementia is the second leading cause of death among Australians, but up to 40 per cent of dementia cases potentially preventable.

Assoc. Prof. Pase says more research, resources and effort are needed to address some of the results in lower n-SES areas.

“With healthy lifestyle habits a key factor in reducing or delaying your risk of developing dementia, it is important for everyone to have access to local facilities such as gyms and public pools, green spaces and health care, but unfortunately that is not always the case,” he says.

“More research is needed to better understand the barriers for people so that informed solutions can be delivered at a community level to address the inequalities.

“Up to 40 per cent of dementia cases are potentially preventable; therefore, it is important to identify high-risk groups to whom resources could be targeted for maximal impact in preventing late-life dementia.

“The association of neighbourhood-level socioeconomic status (SES) with cognition and dementia risk is not well known, particularly in midlife when late-life dementia may still be preventable through established interventions, such as blood pressure management.”

Read: Strategies to reduce your risk of dementia

Dementia describes the symptoms of any one or all illnesses that cause a progressive decline in a person’s functioning. It can happen to anybody but is more common after the age of 65. There is no cure.

“With dementia predicted to cost Australia more than $18.7 billion in 2025, it is important that everyone has the same opportunity to take ownership of their health,” says Assoc. Prof. Pase.

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