Health outcomes, such as access to and quality of health care, are strongly influenced by socioeconomic status. New research from the Healthy Brain Project found that people living in poor areas have lower memory and are more likely to develop dementia. The study included 4,656 adults from metro, regional, and rural Australia.

Dementia is Australia’s second-biggest cause of death. Without a significant medical breakthrough, the number of individuals living with dementia in Australia is predicted to double from 487,600 in 2022 to 1.1 million by 2058 due to the increasing aging population.

There has been a deliberate effort to better understand and identify dementia risk factors. There are risk variables we can’t modify (such as age or genetics) or risk factors that are more adjustable (such as diet or physical activity).

On the other hand, dementia and its risk factors do not affect all populations equally. Within Australia and the United States, educational, racial/ethnic, and geographic inequalities can determine who develops dementia.

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By comparing participants’ postcodes to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Index of Relative Socio-economic Advantage and Disadvantage, the study was able to determine socioeconomic status at the neighborhood level.

This index combines data from a variety of sources, including average household income, education, unemployment rates, vocational skills, disability, vehicle ownership, internet access, family structure, and housing arrangements. Lower scores indicate a higher level of socioeconomic disadvantage.

What did the study find?

The study discovered that a lower socioeconomic position at the neighbourhood level was linked to poor memory and a higher risk of dementia.

This was especially true for the elderly (55 years old and above). Older people in low-income neighbourhoods had lower memory and were more likely to develop dementia.

According to a study conducted in the United States, adults living in the lowest 20% of poor neighbourhoods had smaller brains.

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What do these findings mean?

To begin with, this was an observational study, which involves tracking a group of people and identifying how potential risk variables are linked to dementia. The findings do not imply that living in a less privileged location causes memory decline or dementia.

The findings simply suggest that there is a link or association between dementia risk and living in a poor neighborhood.

Second, socioeconomic status at the neighbourhood level captures many of the subtleties and nuances of where people live.

This includes a variety of data that may have an impact on health outcomes and disease risk. The prevalence of crime and safety, local resources such as access to health care and education, opportunity and space for physical activity and leisure, social disorder, access to greenery, and air and noise pollution are only a few of these issues.

These economic, emotional, and environmental factors have the ability to influence not only health outcomes but also our behaviour. Lack of green space or community sporting facilities, for example, may hinder physical activity, which is linked to poor heart and brain health.

Libraries and recreation centres, likewise, provide vital opportunities for social involvement and mental development, both of which are risk factors for dementia.

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What needs to be done?

On a local, regional, and national level, addressing neighbourhood socioeconomic conditions would demand significant investment and collaboration. To begin with, enhancing the availability and accessibility of green areas and community services, such as leisure and sporting clubs, in every postcode will provide more opportunities for healthy, active lifestyles as people grow older.

Positive health behaviours have been identified on an individual level that can help to prevent or delay memory loss and dementia risk. Eating a well-balanced diet, learning new skills or languages, engaging in regular physical activity, remaining socially engaged, and having a decent night’s sleep are just a few of them.