Living in an area with higher levels of air pollution may increase the risk of dementia in older women, according to a new study published by the American Academy of Neurology.
The researchers looked at 712 women with an average age of 78 who did not have dementia at the start of the study.
Each woman provided health histories as well as information on race, education, employment, smoking and physical activity. All women received an MRI brain scan at the start of the study and five years later.
The researchers then used the residential address of each woman to determine their average exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) in the three years before the first MRI scan.
Following this analysis, the researchers found that for each 3 μg/m3 increase in particulate matter (PM2.5) exposure there was a greater extent of brain shrinkage over five years, which was equivalent to a 24% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The increases remained the same even after adjusting for age, education, employment, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, physical activity and other factors that could affect brain shrinkage
Diana Younan, lead author of the study said: ‘Our study found that women in their 70s and 80s who were exposed to the higher levels of air pollution had an increased risk of brain changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease over five years.
‘Our research suggests these toxins may disrupt brain structure or connections in the brain’s nerve cell network, contributing to the progression toward the disease.”
‘Our findings have important public health implications, because not only did we find brain shrinkage in women exposed to higher levels of air pollution, we also found it in women exposed to air pollution levels lower than those the EPA considers safe.
‘While more research is needed, federal efforts to tighten air pollution exposure standards in the future may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in our older populations.’
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