What goes into the Cognability score?
Cognability is a measure how supportive a neighborhood is to cognitive health through places to exercise, connect with other people, and keep your mind active in later life. We also look for health threats and barriers to accessing community resources. Our Cognability Map includes:
Places to exercise
Being physically active through exercise and leisure activities can benefit your brain. Local parks, swimming pools, gyms, and other fitness facilities can help you move and exercise.
Parks are open and public greenspaces in cities, towns, and communities.
Recreation centers are places to exercise and play sports. This includes gyms, dance studios, ice or roller rinks, racquetball and tennis clubs, swimming or wave pools, and golf courses.
Places to connect with others
Connecting with other people through social activities and civic programs can help you be less isolated and more engaged with your family, friends, and community members. Social activities and support networks are linked to improved cognitive function and reduced risk for dementia. Places such as senior centers, coffee shops, religious organizations, and other civic/social organizations can create a social environment to regularly gather with others and feel less lonely.
Civic and social organizations are places devoted to promoting civic and social interests. This includes booster clubs, veterans’ membership organizations, alumni associations, ethnic groups, sororities, civic boards and advisory committees, and volunteer organizations.
Coffee shops and fast-food restaurants can be affordable social places to enjoy food and drink with others, converse with baristas and servers, and soak up the sights and sounds of other people around you. However, they are not necessarily brain-healthy places because some of the foods served (e.g., burgers, pizza, cookies, donuts, ice cream) can be high in fat, sugar, and salt. Eating food high in fat, sugar, and salt can increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Grocery stores are places to run into friends and neighbors, informally chat with clerks, and be around other people. They are also places to buy healthy foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Religious organizations such as churches, temples, and monasteries can be places to regularly gather and connect with others, engage in social activities, and be part of a community.
Senior centers can provide care, support, socialization, and companionship for aging adults. They can help older people feel less lonely, and provide opportunities for enjoyable social activities such as card games, walking clubs, woodworking groups, knitting and sewing circles, coffee groups, and educational classes.
Places to keep your mind busy
Doing creative, complex, and intellectual activities can help protect your brain. Libraries, college campuses, museums, and performing art theaters create opportunities for cognitively-stimulating activities such as learning, reading, playing and listening to music, and solving puzzles.
Higher education campuses are places to take classes, attend talks and events, and learn. Campuses include colleges, universities, and professional schools.
Libraries are places to access and read books, journals, newspapers, maps, and historical photographs. They are also places to attend educational and social community events.
Performing art theaters are places to watch live performances featuring actors, singers, dancers, musical groups, and other performing artists. You can listen to live music and watch shows, plays, and other productions.
Museums preserve and exhibit historical, cultural, and educational objects. You can learn and think by attending art galleries and museums, planetariums, and science and technology museums.
Community barriers and health threats
Busy highways and polluting industrial sites are sources of pollution that are harmful to your brain. They can also cut off access to community resources and limit enjoyment of parks, walking and socializing outside, and other brain-healthy activities.
Highways include divided interstate highways; as well as US, state, and county highways. These busy roads are sources of harmful air and noise pollution, and can cut off access to community resources.
Polluting sites emit harmful chemicals through heavy manufacturing, metal mining, electric power generation, chemical manufacturing, and hazardous waste treatment.
- There is overlap between the groups of places listed above. For example, you can walk with friends in a park (therefore getting exercise and being social), and take an educational class in a senior center (which is a social activity that also gets you learning and thinking).
- If you want more detailed information about each neighborhood feature and our data sources, please check out this document.
Not all neighborhood features have equal influences on our cognitive health. In our team’s analyses of neighborhoods and cognitive health in the REGARDS Study, we found that living in areas with more civic and social organizations was strongly linked to better cognitive health, while highways were negatively linked. Living in areas with access to performing art theaters, museums, and recreation centers was also positively associated with better cognitive health, while living in an area with multiple fast-food restaurants had a negative association.
Given our findings, we rely heavily on these six neighborhood features to estimate Cognability scores.
We created a Cognability score for every urban and suburban census tract (a small geographic area of about 4,000 people) in the United States on a scale from 0 to 100. The Cognability score predicts how well a neighborhood supports cognitive health through the presence or absence of key places including civic/social organizations, recreation centers, performing art theaters, museums, fast-food restaurants, and highways.
We scored areas by comparing them to one another, so the average census tract gets a score of 50, while above-average areas score higher and below-average communities score lower.
Check out the score of your neighborhood on our Cognability Map.