Why city slickers are more likely to develop dementia compared to their rural counterparts

Nov 28, 2023
Source: Getty Images.

While the vibrant energy and unparalleled convenience of city living are no doubt alluring, recent research suggests that those chasing the big city and bright lights could be at an increased risk of developing dementia.

Research conducted by the University of Southern Queensland revealed that urban residents face a 1.12 times higher likelihood of developing the cognitive disorder compared to their rural counterparts.

The Changes in the prevalence of dementia in Australia and its association with geographic remoteness study was conducted by PhD student Rezwanul Haque and is the first to establish a link between geographical location and dementia risk.

The research uncovered a rise in dementia rates across the general population, climbing from 0.84 percent to 0.89 percent between 2015 and 2018.

In major cities, the prevalence reached 5,590 cases per 100,000 individuals in 2018, marking an 11 percent uptick from 2015. In contrast, there was a notable 21 percent decrease in dementia cases among those residing in outer regional and remote areas during the same period.

Dementia poses a significant health challenge for older Australians, with one in 20 individuals aged over 65 nationally grappling with the condition, as outlined by the SDAC dataset.

Haque underscored that these findings highlight a growing health concern. Without a breakthrough, projections from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare indicate that the number of Australians affected by dementia is anticipated to more than double by 2058.

“There is currently no cure for any form of dementia,” he said.

“Australia’s ageing population is expected to grow even older in the coming decades, which will drive up dementia rates even more and put more pressure on families, health care systems and communities.”

Study co-author Professor Khorshed Alam suggested that the increased vulnerability to dementia among urban residents may be attributed to environmental factors.

“Earlier research identified chronic noise exposure, air pollution and a paucity of green space as probable risk factors for cognition reduction, which are more prevalent in metropolitan areas,” he said.

Alam stressed the importance for policymakers to consider these findings and introduce effective solutions for addressing the challenges posed by the disease.

“Green spaces and increasing the number of urban trees could lower dementia risk by encouraging physical activity, social interaction, and network building while simultaneously reducing exposure to air pollution,” he said.

“Councils could develop standalone urban forest strategies or integrate the conservation of urban forests into municipal strategic planning statements to ensure that residents and communities have healthier environments.

“Additionally, state and territory governments could provide additional funding for vital services such as memory clinics, geriatric assessments and home visits for older adults, services for older adults’ mental health, hospital-to-residential aged care transition services, and assistance for those who are exhibiting behavioural and psychological signs of dementia.”

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