Unseen dangers: how air pollution and dementia connect

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Imagine if your memory started to fail you, and over time, you couldn’t even recognize your loved ones anymore.

That’s what can happen with dementia, a disease that affects a lot of older people around the world.

The causes of dementia are not fully understood, but scientists are working hard to find them.

Known Risk Factors

In 2020, a study from the Lancet journal identified 12 factors that could increase the risk of dementia. These factors can be changed or managed to reduce the risk.

The list included too much alcohol, head injuries, and, interestingly, air pollution.

Air Pollution and Dementia – The Connection

Scientists at the University of California San Diego decided to explore the link between dementia and air pollution.

They wanted to understand if pollution from cars and power plants could make people more likely to develop dementia as they get older.

The Study and Participants

Professor William S. Kremen led the research team. They looked at data from around 1,100 men who were part of a long-term study called the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging.

When the study began, these men were about 56 years old. The scientists kept track of them for 12 years.

What They Looked At

The researchers examined the men’s mental abilities and also estimated how much air pollution they were exposed to.

They especially focused on two pollutants: tiny particles called PM2.5 and a gas called nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which comes from burning fossil fuels.

They also looked at a gene called APOE. This gene makes a protein that helps transport fats in our blood. One version of this gene, APOE-4, is known to increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia.

The Findings

The results were alarming. Men who were exposed to more PM2.5 and NO2 in their 40s and 50s had poorer mental abilities later on. This effect was even more noticeable for those who had the APOE-4 gene.

Their executive function (planning and controlling behavior) and episodic memory (remembering specific events) were particularly affected.

The Importance of Early Action

The Lancet study suggested that managing these 12 risk factors could reduce the chance of getting dementia by up to 40%.

In fact, air pollution was found to be a bigger risk factor than diabetes, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, too much alcohol, and obesity.

The first author of the study, Professor Carol E. Franz, highlighted that identifying and managing these risks early in life is essential.

This study shows that air pollution’s harmful effects on the brain can start earlier than we thought.

Understanding the link between air pollution and dementia is crucial in the fight against this disease. Studies like this help us understand what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

This includes improving air quality to prevent dementia and create a healthier world for everyone.

If you care about dementia, please read studies that 7 healthy habits could help lower dementia risk for people with diabetes, and this antibiotic drug may effectively treat common dementia.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that high doses of common depression drug could temporarily switch off the brain, and results showing watch for these potential heart and brain problems after COVID-19.

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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