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Air pollution and dementia risk

Urban air pollution is a key risk factor in developing dementia claims a study recently published in the BMJ Open. Does this finding suggest a future spike in dementia cases in India’s metropolises?

Copyright: designua / 123RF Stock PhotoThe study may shed some light on why Alzheimer’s disease is becoming more prevalent in India. Two decades ago it was a relatively rare condition. However, current estimates place the number of patients with Alzheimer’s disease in India at around four million. The relative rarity two decades ago may be due to lacking mental health awareness, though these new data suggest that the frequency of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may indeed have been lower due to lower amounts of pollution.

The four million figure is projected to triple by 2050. Despite this, there is no government policy in place to address the condition to the chagrin of experts, who have called for a National Dementia Policy. Unless adequate preparation is taken, Alzheimer’s could place a huge amount of strain on the healthcare system in the future.

Rising levels of air pollution is not the sole cause behind the spike in Alzheimer’s cases in India. The country’s aging population will also play a role in the increase in dementia cases. Worldwide seven percent of people above the age of 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. This figure rises sharply to forty percent above the age of 85.

Life expectancies in India have been increasing consistently for decades. With the increase in life expectancy, it stands to reason that more and more people will be diagnosed with a form of dementia if the correlation with age holds true.

If it is correct that air pollution is a causative or even exacerbative factor for increased numbers of dementia cases, India could face considerable issues in the future. World Health Organization (WHO) data places fourteen of the world’s fifteen most polluted cities in India. Considering also that India’s urban population is growing, India may well see considerable increases in dementia rates.

The research suggested that it was primarily pollution stemming from car exhausts that were increasing the risk of dementia. These chemicals include nitrogen dioxide and soot. These are also known to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and respiratory problems.

India faces a considerable challenge addressing the problems associated with pollution. Mounting evidence is suggesting more and more diseases show a correlation with air pollution. Some studies have even suggested previously considered safe levels of pollution contribute to the risk of diabetes. If India is to curb the effects of pollution, considerable changes must be made at both a societal and political level. Otherwise, it is clear that the public health crises air pollution could portend will be severe, manifold and place untold strain on a public health system already in crisis.

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