Differences in the built characteristics of communities might influence the health and well-being of residents with chronic spinal cord injury, according to scientists researching disability outcomes.

OT_News-01In a study of New Jersey residents with SCI, researchers found that living in communities with more heterogeneous land use was less beneficial to the residents’ perceived health. An article detailing the findings was published in the September issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.

Study authors are Amanda Botticello, PhD, MPH, of Kessler Foundation in West Orange, N.J.; Tanya Rohrbach, MS, of Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, N.J.; and Nicole Cobbold, BS, of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education in Philadelphia.

“We found that living in areas with greater mixed land use (residential, commercial, industrial or recreational) was associated with poorer perceived health among people with SCI in New Jersey,” Botticello, a senior research scientist in outcomes and assessment research at Kessler, said in a news release. “This contrasts with studies in the general population, which appears to benefit from living in more populated areas with mixed land use. What benefits the healthy population may not benefit people with limited mobility, such as individuals with SCI.”

Past studies have shown neighborhood characteristics such as open space, mixed land use and the condition, proximity and accessibility of infrastructure such as parks, sidewalks, recreational facilities and transportation influences physical activity and health among people in the general population. However, according to the release, few studies have investigated the relevance of these community characteristics on the health and well-being for people with disabilities including SCI.

This study was based on survey data for a pool of 503 people from the federally funded Spinal Cord Injury System, or SCIMS, database and Geographic Information Systems data. Participants in the SCIMS database are patients who were treated for SCI at a participating inpatient rehab facility and agree to complete follow-up interviews one year after discharge and subsequent follow-up interviews every five years. Researchers matched the participants’ addresses with GIS data on the surrounding areas.

“Understanding the relationship between disability and the environment is essential to supporting optimal adjustment and outcomes in vulnerable populations,” Botticello said in the release. “Including community risk factors in future investigations may help improve health and well-being by identifying individuals at risk for poorer outcomes.”

Botticello is a co-investigator in the federally funded model system and the Northern New Jersey SCI System and serves as an associate professor at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School in Newark.

This research was supported by funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development and the National Institute for Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research.

Full study: http://www.archives-pmr.org/article/S0003-9993(15)00403-7/fulltext