Living close to parks or water sources ‘may reduce risk of mental health issues’

Living close to parks and water sources may reduce the risk of mental health issues in older people, early research suggests.

A preliminary study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting suggested people living within half a mile of “green” or “blue” spaces had a 17% lower risk of experiencing serious psychological distress compared with those living further away.

Serious psychological distress includes mental health issues that require treatment and have a moderate to severe effect on a person’s ability to participate in work and other social situations.

The experts said experiencing chronic serious psychological distress can play a role in mild cognitive impairment as well as dementia.

Solmaz Amiri, research assistant professor at Washington State University Elson S Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane, Washington, said: “Since we lack effective prevention methods or treatments for mild cognitive impairment and dementia, we need to get creative in how we look at these issues.

“Our hope is that this study showing better mental health among people living close to parks and water will trigger other studies about how these benefits work and whether this proximity can help prevent or delay mild cognitive impairment and dementia.”

As part of the study, the researchers looked at data from the US Census and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of nearly 43,000 people aged 65 or older living in urban areas in the state of Washington.

They analysed how close participants lived to green spaces – such as public parks, community gardens and cemeteries – as well as blue spaces – such as lakes, reservoirs, large rivers and coasts.

Those taking part completed a questionnaire to assess psychological distress, using a five-point scale ranging from zero, meaning none of the time, to four, meaning all the time.

The team reported that around 2% of the overall participants had serious psychological distress.

Of the total participants, 70% lived within half a mile of a green space and 60% lived within half a mile of a blue space.

Of the people who lived within a half mile of parks and water, 1.3% had serious psychological distress, compared with 1.5% of the people who lived further than half a mile.

Ms Amiri added: “Our hope is that this study may help inform public health policies in the future, from where residential facilities are located to programmes to improve mental health outcomes of people living in long-term care centres or nursing homes.”