The Potential Impact of Air Pollution on the Cognitive Health of Older Women

Key Takeaways:

  • There is evidence suggesting that fine particulates in the air may severely impair the cognitive capacities of elderly women, potentially increasing their risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • These particulates can be from various sources including vehicular emission, bushfires, dust, industrial processes, and farming activities.
  • A recent study involving over 700 females in their 70s and 80s without pre-existing cases of dementia revealed that higher exposure to these fine particulates resulted in significant brain shrinkage over five years.
  • Considering the increased risk of Alzheimer’s, steps to mitigate this include being aware of prevailing air quality, exercising indoors during poor air quality conditions, keeping car vents shut, and using proper filtering mechanisms for air pollution at home.
  • Along with these measures, maintaining healthy lifestyle practices such as eating a nutritious diet, getting adequate sleep, ensuring regular exercise, and taking care of blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels can contribute to favourable brain health.

Reports suggest that microscopic pollutants in the air might be severely impairing the cognitive capacities of elderly women.

Repercussions of Fine Particulates on Brain Functionality

Recent research associates inhaling large amounts of these fine particulates, which are nearly 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, to a decrease in brain regions susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Fine-particulate pollution is comprised of a diverse range of elements. It could originate from multiple sources namely vehicular emission, bushfires, dust, industrial processes, and farming activities,” stated the leading researcher of the study, senior research associate Diana Younan, from the University of Southern California.

Study Design and Findings

The investigative study encompassed over 700 females in their 70s and 80s who didn’t have pre-existing cases of dementia. The research was based on information derived from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study and involved conducting brain scans at the start and approximately five years following commencement.

Elderly women who were exposed to higher levels of these fine particulates demonstrated a significant increase in brain shrinkage over a span of five years, as per the research study.

It’s believed that the minute size of these particulates might facilitate their inhalation, allowing them to enter and potentially damage brain structures and connections. Alternatively, it’s suggested that an inflammatory response could be initiated when these particles enter the lungs,” added Younan.

Implication for Alzheimer’s Risk

Younan and her team employed a machine learning tool trained to detect distinct patterns of brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s risk. They categorized the participants into four groups based on their levels of exposure to the minute pollutants and assessed the MRI scans based on their resemblance to Alzheimer’s disease patterns.

It was observed that for each additional 3 micrograms of fine-particle pollution per cubic meter of air, an average score increase of .03 was detected, indicating a more extensive extent of brain shrinkage. This was equivalent to a 24% escalated risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the study does not provide direct “cause and effect” evidence, those residing in urban areas might be more susceptible, according to Younan. Moreover, she raised concerns about the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for pollution, which could potentially be exceeding safe levels.

Steps for Mitigation

Younan advised on measures to potentially reduce the risks, including being aware of prevailing air quality, indoor exercise regimes during poor air quality, keeping car vents shut, and ensuring air conditioning systems at home have proper filtering mechanisms for air pollution.

Dr. Thomas Wisniewski, director of the NYU Langone Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, also emphasized the importance of maintaining healthy practices, such as regular exercise, a nutritious diet rich in grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables, adequate sleep, and keeping the mind active. Additionally, taking care of blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels can also contribute to favourable brain health.

“For the commonly experienced late-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease, environmental and lifestyle factors play a substantial role. While they are intertwined with one’s genetic makeup, lifestyle factors can still significantly influence the age at which symptoms begin to show,” stated Wisniewski.

The study’s findings were published online in the journal Neurology.

Additional Information

The Alzheimer’s Association provides further insight on reducing your risks for dementia. Sources: Diana Younan, PhD, MPH, and Thomas Wisniewski, MD, New York University School of Medicine.

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