Research Shows Easy-to-Walk Communities Can Blunt Cognitive Decline
New study results from the University of Kansas presented at the Gerontological Society of America’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., bolster the adage that “heart healthy is brain healthy.” The investigation shows neighborhoods that motivate walking can stave off cognitive decline in older adults. “People can walk either to get somewhere or for leisure,” said Amber Watts, assistant professor of clinical psychology, who shared her findings at a symposium Nov. 9, in Liberty Salon K at the Washington Marriott Marquis. Watts said neighborhoods that inspire walking for leisure also are full of pleasant things to look at, like walking trails or shade provided by trees. Also, such neighborhoods should make people feel secure on foot. “For older adults, safety is a key issue in walkability,” she said. “That includes things like traffic lights that give ample time to cross, sidewalks that are in good repair, and benches to stop and rest.” The researcher judged walkability using geographic information systems — essentially maps that measure and analyze spatial data. Watts said easy-to-walk communities resulted in better outcomes both for physical health — such as lower body mass and blood pressure — and cognition (such as better memory) in the 25 people with mild Alzheimer’s disease and 39 older adults without cognitive impairment she tracked. She believes that older adults, health care professionals, caregivers, architects, and urban planners could benefit from the findings. For example, she found that intricate community layouts might help to keep cognition sharp, rather than serve as a source of confusion in older adults.
David Wingate, Elder Law Attorney
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