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Air pollution contributing to dementia in the elderly?

Air pollution has been implicated as a major contributing factor to a number of health conditions. Among these are lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study has delved deeper into the potentials for the link between air pollution and dementia, implicating pollution exposure as a factor of considerable harm to India’s elderly.

Delhi's air quality continues to plummet: Article source
Air pollution in Delhi. Image credit: Sumita Roy Dutta [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]
A recent study has further underlined the link between PM2.5, a form of air pollution commonly produced through power plants and car exhausts, and dementia. It was found that women in their seventies and eighties who were exposed to higher levels of air pollution experienced greater declines in memory and increased Alzheimer’s-like brain atrophy than their counterparts who breathed cleaner air. The findings of this study were published in the journal Brain.

Researchers compiled data from 998 women, aged 73 to 87, who had up to two brain scans five years apart. Those brain scans were scored on the basis of their similarity to Alzheimer’s disease patterns by an AI system that had been “trained” via brain scans of people with Alzheimer’s disease. This information was compared directly against the location of the individual, as well as environmental data from the locations to estimate their exposure to PM2.5 pollution.

When all that information was combined, researchers could see the association between higher pollution exposure, brain changes and memory problems — adjusting to take into account differences in income, education, race, geographic region, cigarette smoking and other factors.

“This is the first study to really show, in a statistical model, that air pollution was associated with changes in people’s brains and that those changes were then connected with decline in memory performance,” said Andrew Petkus, assistant professor of clinical neurology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Though the study was performed on elderly individuals, the results do not bode well for those in India who live within cities often being described as “gas chambers” in recent years. Cumulative damage to the brain from years of exposure to air pollution could provoke the symptoms of dementia earlier in life.

Pollution is among India’s foremost health concerns of recent years, responsible for 1.2 million lives being lost in 2017, rising rates of a plethora of diseases, reduced life expectancy, and substantial economic loss. India is home to 22 of the thirty most polluted cities in the world. This highlights that more must be done to combat pollution within the country.

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