Green Havens and Clean Air: Rural Australians Show Lower Dementia Risk, New Study Reveals

HEALTH - Older couple
People residing in rural Australia face a diminished risk of dementia compared to their urban counterparts. 

A recent study shows this could be attributed to the presence of cleaner air and abundant green spaces. The examination, based on the latest national Survey of Disability, Ageing, and Carers, revealed that adults aged over 65 in major cities were 1.12 times more likely to develop dementia.

Conducted by the University of Southern Queensland, the groundbreaking study represents the first comprehensive investigation into the geographical patterns of dementia prevalence. The research utilised data from households and care facilities nationwide.

The lead author and PhD student, Rezwanul Haque, pointed to environmental factors, emphasising that factors like chronic noise exposure, air pollution, and a scarcity of green spaces, which are more prevalent in metropolitan areas, could contribute to the higher incidence of dementia in cities.

A prior 2020 study from the University of Wollongong involving nearly 110,000 adults in New South Wales suggested that increasing urban tree canopy cover could potentially reduce the risk of dementia.

Published in the PLOS One science journal, the results of the University of Southern Queensland research challenged conventional expectations regarding rural health. Professor Khorshed Alam, the research supervisor, noted that while the traditional belief was that rural areas would have higher dementia prevalence, this study revealed the opposite.

This research could serve as a valuable resource for informing public policy and urban planning. Professor Alam stressed the importance of prioritising green spaces, playgrounds, and urban forestry in decision-making processes, advocating for the intrinsic value of these spaces beyond mere commercial considerations.

Contrary to assumptions, the study posited that individuals in metropolitan areas, often characterised by higher education and income levels, might be more adept at recognising and diagnosing dementia.

The analysis encompassed data from 74,862 individuals in 2015 and 65,487 in 2018, indicating an overall increase in dementia rates—a trend recognised globally.


In light of these findings, here are some tips derived from the study:

Emphasise Green Spaces: Urban planning should prioritise the preservation and creation of green spaces, walkways, and urban forestry, recognising their intrinsic value in promoting mental health.

Noise Reduction Initiatives: Implement measures to reduce chronic noise exposure in metropolitan areas, which the study suggests may be a contributing factor to higher rates of dementia.

Community Education: Improve awareness and understanding of dementia symptoms in all communities, ensuring that individuals, regardless of location, can recognise and seek diagnosis for the condition.

Regular Health Studies: Advocate for more frequent and comprehensive studies on older populations with dementia to enhance the quality and frequency of available health data, enabling better-informed decision-making.


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