It’s hardly news that air pollution is bad for your health. Research has shown people who live in areas with elevated levels of pollution have higher risks of pulmonary problems from the loss of lung capacity and function to asthma, emphysema and even cancer.
New research suggests the damage can also include brain functions. A study conducted at the University of London has shown that older people living in areas with high levels of pollution are significantly more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study looked at more than 130,000 people ages 50 to 79 who were registered with doctors located near a busy highway in 2005. None of them had a history of dementia in 2005.
The researchers estimated their yearly exposure to air pollutants — specifically nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter and ozone—on the basis of their addresses. Those who were exposed to the highest levels of pollution had a 40 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia compared with those living in less-polluted areas. The study accounted for factors such as smoking and diabetes.
The results mirrored those of a 2018 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the U.S. that showed air quality, even at levels below EPA thresholds, is strongly associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
How the pollution finds its way to the brain remains a mystery, although the researchers offered some suggestions, such as genetic susceptibility. And they noted there is a great deal more to learn about the links between pollution and brain functions.
But for now, the study adds more weight to efforts underway to clean up the planet’s air for everyone.