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Are there links between dementia and pollution?

Dementia is becoming increasingly common in the UK, and as yet there is not one disease-modifying medication available, nor are there any treatments to restore the cognitive abilities it steals.

According to The Alzheimer’s Society (which represents the biggest cause of dementia), in the UK alone there will be over one million people with dementia by 2025. Predictions are that by 2051 this will rise to two million.

One of the most common myths about dementia is that it is a fatal illness or disease in itself. In fact, dementia is a set of symptoms (including loss of cognitive abilities such as memory) resulting from damage to the brain.

What lies behind that damage is often a mystery, one that is still perplexing scientists the world over. One of the few facts is that the leading cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, but how that starts is also unclear.

Could pollution increase Alzheimer’s risk?

However, recent research has found a potential link between what we breathe in and Alzheimer’s Disease. Could pollution from vehicles stimulate the adverse chemical reaction in the brain that results in cognitive damage?

According to a study published in The Lancet, living near a main road could increase your likelihood of suffering dementia. A ten-year study into the link between air pollution and brain damage in 6.6m people found that people living further away from heavy traffic were less likely to have died showing the symptoms of dementia.

Yet, the research on which this is based is suggestive rather than unequivocal, not least as the demographics and ages of participants are also a factor. However, the findings were enough to set off alarm bells. And it may well play a part in influencing government policy on fuel emissions and pollution abatement.

What can be done about dementia?

More thorough research is needed, and undue panic or lifestyle changes to avoid vehicles fumes would be misplaced and hasty.

One of the few things you can do to prepare for the potential that you or a family member is diagnosed with dementia is the same as you would do for protecting your health, happiness and wealth in the face of any major medical condition. Plan.

Don’t just assume that it couldn’t happen to you or your nearest and dearest. Ensure you have financial stability, good mental health and the emotional perspective to help you cope with a dementia diagnosis. And start that now, because it's never too early.

If you'd like to know more about dementia research and how you can adjust your lifestyle to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible, why not attend our event on 4th July at Bristol’s Watershed, where Dr Judy Howarth, a dementia specialist doctor at Southmead Hospital, will be speaking about the latest research into lifestyle and its impact on the probability of suffering from dementia.

Further details will be announced soon.


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