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Dementia is in the Air We Breathe

I have shared this statistic before, but in America someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 67 seconds.  And Alzheimer’s is just one of the approximately one hundred types of dementia.  Scientists do not have a cure for any of the dementias yet, and even the medications that are indicated for Alzheimer’s are only modestly effective in slowing the progression of this condition.  But scientists are getting more and more data every year on the conditions or genetics that help to predict a person’s likelihood of manifesting some form of dementia.

From physicians in London we learned recently that air pollution and dementia are linked.  Among older residents across areas of London, these scientists found that those who lived in parts of the sprawling metropolis whose air was more polluted residents were more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.  This adds to what researchers have been finding for years about polluted air contributing to cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disorders and even some kinds of cancer.  It’s traffic pollution, manufacturer exhaust and other airborne byproducts of urban living.  The researchers admit that preexisting levels of air pollution and subsequent diagnoses of dementia are not sufficient grounds for establishing causation of the latter by the former.  They are one more reason, however, to underscore the need to minimize humans’ exposure to air pollution.  The researchers calibrated the association between air pollution and dementia diagnoses by tracking individuals and their postal codes.  Nitrogen dioxide and ozone levels in these post codes, in turn, were measured starting back in 2004.  Patients’ health data confirmed the dementia diagnoses from records forward to 2013, and the statistical association was confirmed.  They tracked both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementias (the Alzheimer’s was more common).  The relationship between Alzheimer’s and pollution was more consistent that with vascular dementia, but both were statistically significant.

The scientists admit that some of the findings may be specific to London, but similar findings have seen corroboration in Canadian research.  And it seems unlikely that this is specific to just Commonwealth nations…

What can one do?  Scientists offer two recommendations, and I offer a third:

  1. Where possible avoid heavily trafficked areas during rush hours, and avoid being outside during rush hours.
  2. If possible, reside in locales away from traffic and industry to avoid the prolonged exposure to pollutants that location represents.

…and my third:

  1. Vote for policy makers who will work to tighten air pollution standards.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.


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