Unique Effects of Perceived Neighborhood Physical Disorder and Social Cohesion on Episodic Memory and Semantic Fluency


Objective measures of neighborhood quality are associated with physical and mental health outcomes for older adults, but the relationship between perceived neighborhood quality and cognitive health has not been fully explored. Furthermore, positive and negative neighborhood characteristics may influence cognition through different mechanisms. The present study aimed to determine whether perceptions of neighborhood quality predict cognitive functioning in two domains, above and beyond individual-level risk factors, in a nationally representative sample of older adults.


Using cross-sectional weighted data from 13,919 participants aged 51 and older from the Health and Retirement Study, linear regression models tested independent associations between perceived neighborhood quality (physical disorder and social cohesion) and cognition (episodic memory and semantic verbal fluency), controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, chronic disease burden, and depressive symptoms. Interaction terms tested whether neighborhood social cohesion moderated the relationship between neighborhood physical disorder and each cognitive outcome.


Perception of greater neighborhood physical disorder was significantly associated with worse episodic memory, while perception of lower neighborhood social cohesion was significantly associated with worse semantic fluency. There were no significant interactions between physical disorder and social cohesion.


Results provide preliminary evidence for different mechanisms underlying associations between aspects of neighborhood quality and cognition (e.g., stress vs. social interaction). Additional intervention work is needed to determine whether improving neighborhood physical conditions and promoting social cohesion at the neighborhood level could reduce cognitive morbidity among older adults.