ExCoGIS (Extant Cohorts and Geographic Information Systems) initiative


Cognitive health is your ability to think, learn, reason, and remember. Cognitive health promotion aims to maintain cognitive function in healthy individuals and decrease cognitive decline in those with cognitive impairment and dementia. It does this by targeting changeable behaviours and exposures that can raise or lower a person’s risk of cognitive decline. Among these, environmental factors (e.g. neighbourhood features) are particularly important. However, previous studies on environmental factors affecting cognitive health are lacking because most research in this field has focused on individual level factors. These are things such as lifestyle behaviours (e.g., physical activity and diet), and biomarkers (biological molecules in the body that can be a sign of normal or abnormal, e.g., high blood pressure).  Environmental factors on the other hand, have been largely ignored. The ExCoGIS initiative aims to address this knowledge gap by adding environmental data to previous large scale population studies on cognitive function.


The aim of the EXCoGIS initiative is to add spatial environmental data (environmental data from specific locations) to existing population studies that assessed cognitive health. This will allow for evaluation of aspects of the proposed ecological model of the effects of urban environments on cognitive health.

Figure 1: Ecological model of the effects of urban environments on cognitive health


Several pre-established studies that explore individual-level determinants of cognitive health or collected cognitive function data have joined the ExCoGIS initiative from its inception (January 2018). These include:

  • The Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) on ageing study
  • The Personality And Total Health (PATH) through life project
  • The Sydney Memory and Ageing Study (Sydney MAS)
  • The Australian Diabetes, Obesity & Lifestyle Study (AusDiab)
  • The ALzheimer and FAmilies (ALFA) project.

Each of these studies have specific methodological features and geographical settings that uniquely contribute to achieving the aims of this initiative. .

The proposed work under the ExCoGIS initiative consists of three sequential stages

Stage 1

Creation of spatial environmental variables to be added to extant cohort datasets.

Geographical Information system (GIS) data on urban design characteristics of residential neighbourhoods will be linked to each past study included in the ExCoGIS initiative. GIS is a database that geographic data (data for different locations) is combined with software tools that allow for managing, analysing, and visualising the data. These characteristics will include average household income, dwelling density, street intersection density, land use mix, and number and distance to public transport stops, parks, public open spaces, health-related destinations, community services (e.g., libraries), general services (e.g., post offices), food outlets and retail. We also determine the amount of live green vegetation, the concentration of air pollutants that have been linked to poor health, traffic related noise, and data on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, such as traffic safety, and quality of footpaths.

Stage 2

Study Specific data analysis assessing specific aspects of the proposed ecological model of the effects of the urban environment in cognitive health 

The aims of the ExCoGIS initiative revolve around the estimation of associations between levels of, and changes in, urban environmental factors, lifestyle behaviours, blood and brain imaging biomarkers and cognitive health.

Statistical models will be used to assess the strength of the associations between characteristics of the urban environments, cognitive function related lifestyle behaviours and biological mechanisms with the previous study populations.

Stage 3

Synthesis of findings providing an overview of the validity of the proposed ecological model of the effects of urban environments on cognitive health

We will provide an overview of the validity of the proposed ecological model of the effects of urban environments on cognitive health based on our findings and an updated systematic review of the literature. 

Status / Timeline

The creation and development of spatial environmental variables (Stage 1) to be added to the cohorts that joined the ExCoGIS initiative from its inception commenced in May 2018 and is expected to be completed by June 2019.

Key Investigators (as per grant application)

• Prof Ester Cerin, ACU (Melbourne, Australia)
• Prof Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, ISGlobal (Barcelona, Spain) and ACU (Melbourne, Australia)
• Prof Kaarin Anstey, UNSW and NeuRA (Sydney, Australia)
• A/Prof Anthony Barnett, ACU (Melbourne, Australia)
• Prof Takemi Sugiyama, ACU (Melbourne, Australia)
• Prof Nicola Lautenschlager, University of Melbourne (Melbourne, Australia)
• Prof Bin Jalaludin, UNSW (Sydney, Australia)
• Prof David Dunstan, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and ACU (Melbourne, Australia)
• Prof Perminder Sachdev, UNSW, Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (Sydney, Australia)
• Prof Jonathan Shaw, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute (Melbourne, Australia)
• Prof Olivier Salvado, CSRIO, Biomedical Informatics Group (Brisbane, Australia)
• Dr Marta Crous-Bou, Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center, Fundació Pasqual Maragall (Barcelona, Spain)

Funding Source

The ExCoGIS initiative is funded by the Australian Catholic University. It is also supported by in-kind contributions from ISGlobal (Barcelona, Spain) and the NHMRC-funded Centre for Air pollution, energy and health Research (CAR). Ester Cerin is supported by an Australian Research Council Future.


Cerin E, Barnett A, Shaw JE, Martino E, Knibbs LD, Tham R, Wheeler AJ, Anstey KJ. (2021). From urban neighbourhood environments to cognitive health: a cross-sectional analysis of the role of physical activity and sedentary behaviours. BMC Public Health, 21(1), 2320. doi: 10.1186/s12889-021-12375-3.

Cerin E, Barnett A, Shaw JE, Martino E, Knibbs LD, Tham R, Wheeler AJ, Anstey KJ. (2022). Urban neighbourhood environments, cardiometabolic health and cognitive function: a national cross-sectional study of middle-aged and older adults in Australia. Toxics, 10, 23. doi: 10.3390/toxics10010023.

Tham R, Wheeler AJ, Carver A, Dunstan D, Donaire-Gonzalez D, Anstey KJ, Shaw JE, Magliano DJ, Martino E, Barnett A, Cerin E. (2022). Associations between traffic-related air pollution and cognitive function in Australian urban settings: the moderating role of diabetes status. Toxics, 10(6), 289. doi: 10.3390/toxics10060289.

Wu, YT., Clare, L., Jones, I.R., Nelis, S.M., Quinn, S., Martyt, A., Victor, C.R., Lamont, R.A., Rippon, I., Matthews, F.E. (2021). Perceived and objective availability of green and blue spaces and quality of life in people with dementia: results from the IDEAL programme. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (56),1601–1610 doi: 10.1007/s00127-021-02030-y

For more details on methodology download our PDF


The Impact of the Environment and Pollution on Cognitive Health (EPOCH) is a sub initiative of ExCoGIS. It is a collaboration between Australia and UK and explores how built environments can support cognitive health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. 

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