Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Previously Published Works bannerUC Berkeley

Neighborhood Environment and Cognition in Older Adults: A Systematic Review.

  • Author(s): Besser, Lilah M;
  • McDonald, Noreen C;
  • Song, Yan;
  • Kukull, Walter A;
  • Rodriguez, Daniel A
  • et al.


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.


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.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View