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Mindmap: Promoting mental wellbeing in the ageing urban population

Decades of research have documented the higher risk of mental disorders amongst people living in urban versus rural areas. Parallel to urbanisation, cities have not escaped the dramatic demographic shift resulting in a large number of older citizens living in European cities. Urbanisation and ageing combined, therefore, have enormous implications for public mental health, yet there is limited understanding of the pathways through which cities and urban environments influence mental wellbeing and cognitive function in older populations.

From 1990 to 2010, the burden of mental health increased by 38%, an increase mostly attributable to population growth and ageing. Mental disorders associated with ageing, therefore, have become a key priority for public health policy and prevention. Mental disorders in old age lead to impairments in the ability to function socially, decreased quality of life, and increased risk of health problems and comorbidities. They carry substantial social and economic impacts on families and societies, imposing a substantial burden on health and social care services.

While cities pose major challenges for older citizens, they also offer unique opportunities for the design of policies, clinical and public health interventions that promote mental health and ensure the delivery of health care services for the elderly. 


The overall aim of the MINDMAP project is to identify the opportunities offered by the urban environment for the promotion of mental wellbeing and cognitive function of older individuals in Europe. To achieve this, the project will advance understanding by bringing together longitudinal studies across cities in Europe, the US and Canada to unravel the causal pathways and multi-level interactions between the urban environment and the individual determinants of mental wellbeing in older age. The project will examine the causes of variation in mental wellbeing and disorders in old age both within as well as between cities and identify national and urban policies for the prevention and early diagnosis of mental conditions and disorders of older people. 

The specific objectives of MINDMAP are:

  1. To assess the impact of the urban environment on the mental wellbeing and disorders associated with ageing, and estimate the extent to which exposure to specific urban environmental factors and policies explain differences in ageing-related mental and cognitive disorders both within as well as between European cities.
  2. To assess the causal pathways and interactions between the urban environment and the individual determinants of mental health and cognitive ageing in older adults. 
  3. To use agent-based modelling to simulate the effect of prevention and early identification policies specific to urban environments on the trajectories of mental health and cognitive ageing across cities in Europe. 

This project was funded by the European Commission, Horizon 2020 under Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing.

Click here for a list of partners


To carry out the aims outlined above, we will do the following:

  1. The project will assemble and harmonise data from 10 ongoing longitudinal ageing studies across more than 16 cities in Europe, Canada and the United States. This will be complemented by registry data on mortality and hospital discharge, as well as international longitudinal surveys of ageing.
  2. We will test the hypothesis that mental health and cognitive capacity in old age are shaped by the interaction between specific characteristics of the urban environment and social, biological, behavioural, and psychosocial characteristics. Our study will also asses the interaction between the urban environment and the genetic make-up.
  3. Integrating findings from the first two aims into a novel agent-based model, we will use a systems approach to simulate the potential impact of multiple policy and intervention scenarios on the mental and cognitive wellbeing of older populations in European cities.


This knowledge will contribute to the establishment of preventive strategies in urban settings to promote the mental dimension of healthy ageing, reduce the negative impact of mental disorders on comorbidities and preserve cognitive function in old age.

Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: European Commission

Amount: €5,743,160

Period: January 2016 - December 2019