Neighborhood cognitive amenities? A mixed-methods study of intellectually-stimulating places and cognitive function among older Americans

Jessica Finlay, Wenshan Yu, Philippa Clarke, Mao Li, Suzanne Judd, Michael Esposito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Neighborhoods structure health and wellbeing in later life. Local spaces can encourage physically active and socially engaged aging in place, and may also nurture opportunities for cognitively-stimulating creative and complex activities such as reading; playing and listening to music; learning; and engagement in galleries, performing arts, and museums. These activities are associated with better cognitive health outcomes. In this exploratory sequential mixed-methods study, thematic analysis of interviews and ethnographic fieldwork with 125 diverse older adults in the Minneapolis (MN) metropolitan area (mean age 71 years) explored how and where older adults participated in intellectually-stimulating neighborhood activities. Thematic analysis indicated that libraries, higher education campuses, and sites of arts and culture were frequented intellectually-stimulating places, with racial differences in perception and usage. The qualitative findings informed quantitative investigation of associations between these amenities and cognitive function in a large national sample of aging Black and white Americans (n = 21,165, mean age 67 years) in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study. We used multilevel linear regression models to examine whether living in a neighborhood with higher kernel densities of libraries, higher education campuses, and arts/cultural sites had a net positive effect on cognitive function. Analysis identified statistically significant positive associations between arts/cultural sites and cognitive function, with a significantly larger effect size for white versus Black participants. The study contributes new evidence to the emerging ecological model of cognitive health. It critically considers racial disparities in access to health-promoting neighborhood infrastructure and opportunities to age well in place.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100040
JournalWellbeing, Space and Society
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors


  • Aging
  • Cognitive function
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Mixed-methods
  • Neighborhood
  • Wellbeing


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