Study Finds Possible Link Between Air Pollution and Dementia

A recent study found that long-term exposure to certain air pollution could possibly be linked to the risk for dementia. A neurologist weighs in on the results.

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CLEVELAND – A recent study from the National Institutes of Health found that long-term exposure to certain kinds of air pollution could possibly be linked to the risk for dementia.

“I think the findings are helpful and also support what people have found previously, that there seems to be a relationship between exposure to higher levels of fine particulate matter and dementia,” said Charles Bernick, MD, MPH, neurologist for Cleveland Clinic.

Dr. Bernick was not a part of the study, but said researchers looked at nine emission sources.

Some of those included agriculture, wildfires, road traffic and coal combustion for energy production.

They also reviewed data from nearly 28,000 adults who are 50 and older over a 10-year span.

Ultimately, they found 15% developed dementia.

In addition, they learned that agriculture and open fires had the strongest air pollution-dementia associations.

So, how exactly does air pollution play a role with dementia?

“There’s several potential ways air pollution could affect the brain. One is through just inflammation that it causes in the lungs, in the body that may also enter the brain,” said Dr. Bernick. “There’s also the thought that the toxic properties of air pollution itself could directly enter into the brain. But, we really don’t know.”

Dr. Bernick said people shouldn’t panic about the results.

However, he notes it does highlight the need to help reduce air pollution for public health.

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