Can Living in a Less-Polluted City Lower Your Dementia Risk?

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Can moving to a less-polluted area reduce your risk of developing dementia later in life? Possibly, according to the findings of three studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2021 in Denver.

In one presentation, researchers at the University of Southern California revealed evidence that reductions in fine particulate matter and traffic-related pollutants are associated with a 14% to 26% lower risk of dementia in older women.

Benefits included a slower decline in both overall cognitive function and memory, and on specific tests of working memory, episodic memory and attention/executive function.

Another presentation out of the University of California, San Diego, reported a similar link between lower air pollution levels and reduced risk of dementias and Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, findings from a University of Washington study presented at the conference indicated that long-term exposure to air pollutants is linked to higher levels of beta amyloid in the blood. A buildup of beta amyloid plaques is a telltale indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Earlier studies have found that long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to the accumulation of brain plaques related to Alzheimer’s disease. But in a press release, the Alzheimer’s Association stated that the findings at this year’s conference were the first to show that reducing pollution is linked to a lower risk of all-cause dementias and Alzheimer’s disease.

Reducing the levels of fine particles in the air and of pollutants from the burning of fuel appears to be especially beneficial.

Claire Sexton, Alzheimer’s Association director of scientific programs and outreach, noted that researchers have known for some time that air pollution could be damaging to the brain:

“But what’s exciting is we’re now seeing data showing that improving air quality may actually reduce the risk of dementia. These data demonstrate the importance of policies and action by federal and local governments, and businesses, that address reducing air pollutants.”

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