Exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of developing serious neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia problems, according to the findings of a new study.
In findings published last week in the medical journal The Lancet, researchers from Harvard indicate that individuals with higher exposurelevels of fine particulate matter air pollution also had an increased neurological risks, especially if they were over 65 years of age.
Researchers focused on the impact of fine particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) on neurological disorders. Prior research has explored the impact it has on premature death, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory diseases, but not the side effects of air pollution on the brain.
The population-based study involved data on all fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries over 65 years old in the U.S. from 2000 to 2016. The study included 63 million patients over 65 years old, and researchers estimated PM 2.5 concentrations where they lived based on average annual predictions.
According to the findings, there were one million cases of Parkinson’s disease and 3.4 million cases of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, based on primary and secondary diagnosis billing codes.
The data indicates that for each 5 μg/m3 increase in annual PM 2.5 there was a 13% greater risk of hospital admissions for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers disease and other dementias. Women, caucasians, and people living in urban areas were especially susceptible.
Those facing the highest risk for Parkinson’s disease were older adults living in the Northeast. People living in the Midwest had the strongest risk for Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
The neurological risk for conditions like Alzheimer’s and Dementia were seen even at levels far below national safety standards. Prior research has also shown air pollution at levels below international standards still posed a risk to human health, even for short-term exposure.
The findings echo other recent research, which has shown exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of cognitive problems and degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia. In fact, exposure even at low levels was linked to increased rates of Dementia again in a previous study.
Researchers indicated exposure to air pollution may facilitate biological changes to the body leading to neurodegeneration.
Air pollution kills more than 7 million people each year. Failing to address rising levels of air pollution will continue to affect human health negatively.
“These findings suggest that improving air quality, with PM25 concentrations even lower than current national standards, could yield public health benefits,” the researchers concluded.