Air pollution may be linked to heightened dementia risk

Federico Mansilla
Setiembre 21, 2018

Martie Van Tongeren, a professor of occupational and environmental health at Manchester University, who was not involved, said: "There is a growing body of evidence of the link between air pollution and brain health, including dementia and Alzheimer's". According to the World Health Organization globally there are 47 million people living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias and this number is set to rise to 75 million by 2030 and become triple the numbers by 2050.

A recent study indicates that air pollution may increase the chance of developing dementia.

Dementia is a catch-all term for a number of brain disorders that cause trouble with memory and thinking.

"By ending the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040, we are also acting faster to tackle air pollution than nearly every other major developed economy".

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.

The researchers explain that there was no direct connection between dementia and air pollution but there seems to be a connection between the two that can not be explained by other risk factors.

Those living in the areas with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide compared to those living with the lowest exposure had a 40 percent increased risk of developing dementia, the study found.

Between 2005 and 2013, a total of 2181 patients (1.7%) were diagnosed with dementia, 39% of whom had Alzheimer's disease and 29% of whom had vascular dementia. They also estimated the participants' proximity to heavy traffic.

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The study looked at the air and noise pollution at various parts of London and compared it with patient health records for almost 131,000 patients between ages 50 and 79 years.

Carey said it's not clear why air pollution appears to be linked to dementia.

A Defra spokesperson said levels of air pollution, including NOx, had fallen and the government was taking further action: "By ending the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040, we are acting faster to tackle air pollution than nearly every other major developed economy". "There are also valid concerns about the under-diagnosing of dementia on electronic patient records", Carey said.

"This is probably the sixth or seventh serious regional study of air pollution and cognition that has been published in the last three years", said Caleb Finch, a leading expert on Alzheimer's disease and a professor at the University of Southern California's Leonard Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles. "Their findings are extremely carefully analyzed and are in complete agreement with the general conclusion whether it's the United States, whether it's Ontario, Canada, which is another study, or whether it's China", he said.

The study was published September 18 in the BMJ.

"It's merely a very intriguing association that's being raised, which is biologically quite plausible, but it's one that certainly requires further studies in other populations", Wisniewski said.

As it turns out, Finch's lab is continuing separate research into the specific mechanisms behind the association between air pollution and dementia, he said.

And even if the impact of air pollution remains relatively modest, they added, "the public health gains would be significant if it emerged that curbing exposure might delay progression of dementia".

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