Associations Between Greenspace and Cognitive Performance: James E. Galvin, MD, MPH

The director of the Comprehensive Center for Brain Health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine discussed the clinical significance of his findings on neighborhood tree canopy and brain health.

"Because we’re doing this using independent datasets collected in longitudinal studies, it reaffirms the fact that these are things to think about when developing smart cities. But also, in our early and later life, we want to stress getting outside of our house/office and experience the beauties of the world as it is."

To date, there has been little research regarding the associations of greenspace types and Alzheimer disease (AD) risk. A study presented at the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), July 26-30, investigated these associations using a cohort of 553 cognitively-normal participants who completed Uniform Data Set assessments from Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Addresses geocoded to US Census tracts were linked to the National Land Cover Dataset to identify open spaces and areas with tree canopy (forest).

Using multi-level linear regression models controlled for demographics, comorbidities, and neighborhood disadvantage and population density, investigators found that although a greater percentage of forest was associated with lower baseline episodic memory (estimate = –0.79 [95% CI, –1.13 to –0.46), slower annual episodic memory declines (estimate = 0.069 [95% CI, 0.002-0.137), higher baseline executive function (0.15 [95% CI, 0.03-0.26]) and fewer white matter hypointensities (estimate = –3521 mm3 [95% CI, –6443 to –600]).

NeurologyLive reached out to senior investigator James Galvin, MD, MPH, to better understand the clinical significance of the results. Galvin, director of the Comprehensive Center for Brain Health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, stressed that choosing areas with better open space is among the many controllable factors to reduce AD risk.

Besser LM, Chang L, Mitsova D, et al. Associations between neighborhood greenspaces and cognitive and brain volume measures in cognitively normal older adults. Presented at AAIC 2021; July 26-30, 2021.