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The Link Between High Air Pollution And Dementia 

Air pollution continues to rise globally and with more ambient pollution comes more health issues. More evidence is being found that proves air pollutants are a contributing factor to mental and physical illnesses. While short-term physical and mental side effects of exposure to air pollution are receiving more attention, the long-term slower side effects that lead to cognitive decline haven’t been as much of a focus. That seems to be changing as research is beginning to find a connection between air pollution exposure and effects later in life. 

A 2022 study found a strong link between air pollution and dementia. The study concluded it is “likely that air pollution can contribute to a decline in mental ability and dementia in older people.” Brain health is an important concern for everyone but especially for older adults who have an increased risk of developing dementia

There is also an established link between air pollutants and specific neurological diseases that target the elderly including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Though air pollution exposure isn’t the only cause of these diseases, its association to negatively affecting cognitive health is alarming. 

air pollution exposure leads to an increased risk of dementia

Air pollution continues to be an ever-increasing problem, but the focus is mostly on respiratory issues that visibly polluted air can cause. The quick conclusion is that air pollution causes brain pollution.  

The good news is you can do something to control your exposure to air pollutants. We spend most of our time indoors, and according to the EPAindoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels.” Although we can’t individually control outdoor ambient air pollution, it’s important to improve your indoor air pollution to combat any negative side effects air pollution exposure is creating.



How does air pollution affect the human brain?

A whole host of issues happen when fine particulate matter is inhaled. Children and older people are more likely to have cognitive impairment with exposure to fine particulate air pollutants. The more air pollution exposure you experience, at any age, the greater risk of health issues later in life. 

Pollutants target children’s developing brains and can stunt growth in their formative years. It can also contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis. Air pollution can damage children’s cognitive abilities and increase adults’ risk of cognitive impairment and decline.  

Blood vessels are irritated when fine particles that exist in air pollution are inhaled. This irritation creates a circulation issue, which blocks cerebral blood flow, and causes vascular dementia over time.  

In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified air pollution as the second leading cause of death from noncommunicable diseases only after tobacco. 

WHO graph of deaths from noncommunicable diseases


Who should be worried about the negative effect of air pollution on the brain?

In general, everyone should be worried about the negative effect of air pollution on the brain. Air pollution can cause more issues than just minor symptoms like a headache and cough. Ambient air pollution and indoor air pollution can contribute to mental and physical illnesses

Those who live in urban areas are more likely to be affected by air pollution. Anyone can have adverse side effects after exposure to air pollution, but there is evidence more specific to women and children that has shown high exposure can increase the risk of breast cancer and alter a child’s developing brain. 

Adults can develop issues after air pollution exposure as well. These other issues can include asthma, bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer. Higher air pollution levels can cause health issues at any age. 

side effects of air pollution exposure for children, adults, and elderly

Although everyone needs to be aware of air pollution exposure side effects and how to reduce their risk, older adults are the most at risk of dementia associated with air pollution. A 2022 study found an association between improved air quality and lower dementia risk in elderly women.  

Alzheimer’s disease is a public health concern as everyone ages. Learning that air pollution exposure could be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease late in life should have everyone considering cleaning their air, especially in places like nursing homes. 

 

How improving air quality reduces the risk of dementia 

As we age our dementia risk increases, but improved air quality can help reduce this risk. Although cleaning your indoor air won’t completely stop dementia diagnoses, it will help keep your physical and mental health strong. 

A Keck School of Medicine study found that improving air quality slows cognitive decline and reduces the risk of dementia later in life for women. The study gave cognitive function tests to women over a ten year period in areas with differing levels of air pollution. The cognitive tests proved that there was a 14%-26% decrease in dementia in women directly connected to lower levels of air pollution. Outdoor air quality standards and cleaning your indoor air with air purifiers will contribute to an overall decrease in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. 

Healthy indoor air quality can improve several other mental and physical conditions. Cleaning your indoor air can help mitigate the spread of any airborne illnesses from the common cold to COVID. Healthy indoor air quality also helps with allergy symptoms caused by seasonal allergies.  

Air pollution exposure can contribute to stress, anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline. In turn, cleaning your indoor air pollution can help mitigate these mental health issues and more including the ability to focus and work productively. 

 

Ways you can begin reducing ambient air pollution in your home

Listing out all of these possible side effects from high air pollution exposure is understandably scary, but the good news is there’s a way to effectively clean your indoor air and reduce your risk of these side effects, including cognitive decline. 

You can minimize your exposure to environmental air pollution by tracking the air quality in your area. The most prominent causes of ambient air pollution are motor vehicles on nearby roads which creates traffic-related air pollution. Industrial facilities, household combustion items like space heaters and fireplaces, and the ever-growing trend of dangerous wildfires also contribute to particulate air pollution. 

While we won’t see a huge downturn in outdoor air pollution, unless there are major policies put in place to reduce air pollution and the combustion of fossil fuels, we can still safeguard ourselves from the worst effects of polluted air. The best way to do this is to avoid it altogether. When the air quality in your area is poor, stay indoors!

This is easier said than done, and if you’re staying indoors you’ll need a way to reduce air pollutants in your home. There are some ways to reduce air pollution in your home including creating better natural ventilation. You should open windows and create a cross breeze, but only on days when outdoor air quality is healthy. 

Updating your HVAC system and turning on your air conditioning can help circulate air in your home. But, these approaches are limited as natural ventilation won’t work on days when outdoor air quality is unhealthy and your HVAC system isn’t designed to clean your indoor air

One of the best ways to reduce indoor air pollution is to clean your household air with air purifiers. Real HEPA air purifiers are the only proven technology that safely and effectively cleans your indoor air of fine particulate pollution. Keeping your environmental health on track is important, especially for older adults due to their higher risk of health problems including dementia, and real HEPA air purifiers are an easy and cost-effective way to minimize risk.

what HEPA air purifiers clean