By Angie Schmitt, November 12, 2014
Older adults who live in walkable neighborhoods stay in better shape,
physically and mentally, than those who live in car-dependent areas,
according to a new study.
In a study presented last weekend to the Gerontological Society of America,
University of Kansas assistant professor Amber Watts examined 26
subjects with mild Alzheimer’s Disease and 30 healthy control
subjects. She tracked health outcomes over two years, controlling for
home price, income, gender, and education.
Watts found that subjects living in walkable neighborhoods, from both
groups, had lower body mass index, healthier metabolisms, and better
memory and cognition. This was particularly true in neighborhoods that
had complicated paths to destinations, she found.
“There seems to be a component of a person’s mental representation of
the spatial environment, for example, the ability to picture the
streets like a mental map,” Watts said in a press release. “Complex
environments may require more complex mental processes to navigate. Our
findings suggest that people with neighborhoods that require more mental
complexity actually experience less decline in their mental functioning
Older adults are less likely to get regular exercise than the general
population, but walking is one form of activity that is considered safe
and healthy for people with Alzheimer’s. Neighborhood attributes like
good sidewalks, generous crossing time at intersections, benches, and
closely spaced parks and destinations can help encourage older people to
walk for transportation, Watts said.