Dementia Incidence Tied to Air Pollution

Rodiano Bonacci
Settembre 21, 2018

Adults living in areas in the top fifth of nitrogen dioxide concentration ( 41.5 µg/m) versus the lowest fifth ( 31.9 µg/m) had a heightened risk of dementia (HR 1.40).

A recent study indicates that air pollution may increase the chance of developing dementia. The syndrome involves the loss of cognitive functioning and behavioral abilities, and Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults.

Due to limitations of the observational study, it is not possible to establish whether air pollution is a direct cause of the dementia cases.

For the purposes of this study, the researchers focused on just under 131,000 patients aged 50 to 79 in 2004, who had not been diagnosed with dementia, and who were registered at 75 general practices located within the London orbital M25 motorway.

Labour slammed ministers for failing to address air pollution, which regularly exceeds legal limits in many areas, particularly in London.

In general, more research is needed to determine what could be driving the link between environmental factors such as air pollution and dementia risk and whether there could be a causal relationship, said Dr. Thomas Wisniewski, director of the Center for Cognitive Neurology at NYU Langone Health in NY, who was not involved in the new study.

Specifically, those in the top fifth areas of exposure "were 40% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia in the study" than those in the bottom fifth, even after adjusting for other risk factors like smoking or socioeconomic status, said Iain Carey, a senior lecturer of epidemiology in the Population Health Research Institute at St. George's University of London, who was lead author of the paper.

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During that time, almost 2,200 patients - 1.7 per cent of the total - were diagnosed with dementia.

Advocates in the United Kingdom are campaigning the government to act on air pollution. They also estimated road traffic noise levels using a model called TRAffic Noise Exposure.

A similar increase was seen with levels of PM2.5, they added.

The health of the patients was tracked for an average of seven years, until they were diagnosed with dementia, died or left their GP practice. For other measures, such as ozone and distance to heavy traffic, the researchers said there was less evidence of any links. He said that this study would encourage further research to understand the connection between air pollution and dementia better. He noted that other research has suggested that children's brain development may be affected by pollution. But she also said it's too soon to speculate how pollution might play a role in dementia. "It makes a lot of sense that various environmental and lifestyle issues can affect the prevalence and incidence of dementias and Alzheimer's disease". During the study period, 1.7 percent of the patient population developed dementia.

But he said if you start looking at factors that might cause premature death of nerve cells in the brain, "living in an environment that is toxic to those cells from pollution is probably not healthy".

Steps that both experts recommended included getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat with plenty of vegetables and fruits, getting adequate sleep, and keeping your brain engaged with things like puzzles, new learning and social activities.

Finch co-led a study, published a year ago in the journal Translational Psychiatry, that found a link between exposure to airborne particulate matter and cognitive impairment in older women.

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