The impact of the Environment and Pollution On Cognitive Health (EPOCH): Building the knowledge base through international collaboration

The aim of this project is to investigate the complex relationships between the built environment, natural environment and pollution and their potential impact on cognitive health in later life. Utilising interdisciplinary data resources from the health and social sciences, the project will create innovative datasets integrating environmental and individual health data in the UK and Australia.

Novel analytical methods will also be developed to investigate

(1) how different environmental factors in neighbourhoods can influence cognitive decline and dementia in older people;

(2) how lifestyle behaviours (levels of engagement in physical, social, and mental activities) can explain the impact of neighbourhood environments on cognitive health;

(3) whether the effects of neighbourhood environments depend on sex, socioeconomic status, and genetic predisposition to dementia.

Similar research methods and analytical approaches will be carried out in different populations across the UK and Australia to provide comparable results for cross-country comparison. The international collaboration will maximise the potential for developing the next generation of researchers in the environment, cognition and ageing research fields and create a cross-disciplinary network for future research and innovations.

The outputs of this project will contribute to knowledge and methodologies that will advance research on environment, cognition and ageing and enhance evidence-based strategies to reduce the risk of accelerated decline in cognitive function and prevent the progression toward cognitive impairment and dementia.


The outputs of this project will have a strong impact on the research community, policy makers, civic organisations and the pubic and inform evidence-based strategies for risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia via improving neighbourhood environments and creating a supportive environment for the growing numbers of older people across the world. 

(1) Impact on knowledge and research: This interdisciplinary project will make substantial theoretical and methodological contributions to environmental, cognitive and ageing research. The findings will inform how and for whom the joint effects of a comprehensive set of interrelated environmental factors are beneficial and harmful to cognitive health. This will address limitations of prior research focusing on single dimensions of the neighbourhood environment (harmful pollutants or activity-supportive aspects of the built environment) and contribute to the development and refinement of a comprehensive theoretical model of environmental influences on cognitive health in later life. This collaborative project will bring together resources and expertise from the UK and Australian research teams and carry out similar analyses across cohort studies to allow cross-country comparison. The evidence generated from this project will guide the conceptualisation and design of future observational and intervention studies. 

(2) Impact on policy and practice: The findings of this project will identify key environmental factors, particularly in the built environment, related to cognitive health in later life and provide robust evidence to inform public health, urban planning, transportation and environmental protection policies and practices. The project will identify how neighbourhood environments can support cognitive health in older people, what are favourable or unfavourable environmental characteristics, and who are vulnerable groups that are most affected by unfavourable neighbourhood environments or individual characteristics. These findings will address the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal 11: 'to make cities and human developments inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030', which highlights the importance of creating a supportive environment for population health through improving road safety, public transport, air quality and access to green and public spaces. This project will provide specific information on the links between the environment and cognitive health in later life and generate robust evidence informing recommendations on optimal levels of environmental attributes, such as the maximal distance to green spaces from residential areas, the minimal level of access to public transport, or the 'safe' concentration levels of traffic-related pollution for cognitive health in the two nations. This will inspire the commitment and collaboration across the public health, urban planning, transportation and environmental protection sectors to incorporate environmental factors into prevention strategies for cognitive decline and dementia and develop specific guidelines to improve neighbourhood environments in different areas. 

(3) Impact on civic organisations and the public: The outputs of this project will benefit civic organisations focusing on the promotion of healthy ageing and on the creation of age-friendly, sustainable and healthy communities. Civic organisations will be able to use the project findings to identify issues in local areas and inform policy gaps in the health and social care, transportation or urban planning sectors and, subsequently, reframe policy debates and engage stakeholders to improve understanding of the key environmental issues and devise actionable solutions. The improvement of neighbourhood environments and changes in relevant policies will ultimately benefit the public and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older populations. 


Wu, Y.T., Kingston, A., Houlden, V. and Franklin, R., 2022. The longitudinal associations between proximity to local grocery shops and functional ability in the very old living with and without multimorbidity: Results from the Newcastle 85+ study. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 101, p.104703.