Air pollution linked to higher risk of dementia

Air pollution linked to higher risk of dementia

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.

The study focused on 131,000 patients aged between 50 and 79 in 2004, who had not been diagnosed with dementia, registered at 75 general practices within the M25.

Even when independent risk factors for dementia - such as hypertension or obesity - were taken into account, this association remained.

Air pollution has recently come under the scanner with a study finding pollutants crossing over into the placenta of the pregnant women and yet another study in China showing exposure to air pollutants causing impairment of intelligence in children.

To try and explore this further, the researchers used carefully calculated estimates of air and noise pollution levels across Greater London to assess potential links with new dementia diagnoses. Simon Alcock, head of United Kingdom public affairs for ClientEarth, which has repeatedly taken the government to court over its failures on air quality, called for a national clean air bill backed by an independent watchdog, and clean air zones in the most polluted areas.

Finch, who was not involved in the study, said the findings align with separate research that has explored associations between air pollution and aging. Carey said all of the locations were in urban areas. None had been diagnosed with dementia.

Using their models, the researchers then estimated how much traffic noise and air pollutants - such as nitrogen dioxide, which forms from emissions from vehicles and power plants, and fine particulate matter, a complex mixture of small particles and liquid droplets - each adult would have been exposed to annually. They also estimated the participants' proximity to heavy traffic.

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

Adults living in areas of London with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) had a 40% higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia than people living in areas with the lowest levels, reported Iain Carey, PhD, of the University of London, and colleagues in BMJ Open. The odds of an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis was 50 percent higher for people living with the highest exposure to nitrogen dioxide. The increased incidence of dementia in areas with high levels of air pollution could not be explained by other factors known to increase risk of the disease.

Research is also increasingly linking traffic fumes to thinking problems.

According to the authors of the paper, "Traffic related air pollution has been [linked to] poorer cognitive development in young children, and continued significant exposure may produce neuroinflammation and altered brain innate immune responses in early adulthood".

Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer's Association, said this study "raises a lot of interesting questions". "I don't think you can draw any conclusions from this study", Snyder said. He also noted that dementia occurs in people living all over - in urban, suburban and rural areas.

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.

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