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Studies presented at AAIC show that reducing air pollution may benefit brain health and reduce dementia risk

Monday 26 July 2021

New research presented in July at the 2021 Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) has revealed the potential benefits of reducing air pollution for brain health and dementia risk. Previous studies have found that people living in areas with high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk of developing dementia. To understand whether reducing air pollution could improve brain health and reduce dementia risk, researchers analysed data from long-term epidemiological studies of people living in the US and in France. 

Dr. Xinhui Wang (University of Southern California) studied a group of women aged 74-92 in the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study - Epidemiology of Cognitive Health Outcomes (WHIMS-ECHO) who didn't have dementia at the start of the study. Analysing data from a period of 10 years between 2008-2018, Dr. Wang looked at how cognitive test scores fluctuated in different geographic areas, and whether this was associated with decreases in air pollution. She found that women living in locations with greater improvements in air quality were less likely to develop dementia, with reductions in dementia risk of 14% and 26% based on measures of particulate air pollution (PM2.5) and traffic pollution (NO2).

Studying a French cohort of more than 7,000 participants aged over 65, Dr. Noemie Letellier of the University of California, San Diego, found that improvements in air quality between 1990-2000 were linked with reduced risk of all-cause dementia (15% risk reduction) and Alzheimer's disease (17% risk reduction) for every microgram of gaseous pollutant per cubic metre of air (PM2.5).

Together, these studies indicate that air pollution may be an important factor in the development of dementia, providing evidence that improving air quality could have substantial brain health benefits.