Concerns raised about links between air pollution in cities and dementia

27 September 2018

UoM Professor Martie van Tongeren featured in articles by the Guardian and the South China Morning Post examining the recent study published in medical journal BMJ Open on the links between air pollution and dementia.

The longitudinal study, led by Iain Carey of the University of London’s Population Health Research Institute examined health records for 131,000 people aged between 50-79 in 2004 who were residents of Greater London and did not have any signs of dementia at the commencement of the study. The research’s used the Clinical Practice Research Database, a database that contains data from GP patients, to identify patients that were diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  The air pollution exposure of the patients was estimated at the home address of the patients in 2004.

Through the course of the study, almost 2,200 of these participants were diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s – with this risk of developing these diseases increasing with increasing pollution.

Professor Martie Van Tongeren told MICRA:

“This study provides further evidence of the adverse health effects that are caused by increased levels of air pollution.  As most people in the UK live in urban areas, exposure to traffic-related and other air pollutants is ubiquitous.  Hence, even a relatively small increase in risk will result in a large public health impact.  I agree with the authors that the burden of disease of dementia and other neurodegenerative disease is substantial and growing.  Hence, the action is required by authorities to reduce air pollution levels as well as increase our understanding of the exact role of air pollution in relation to brain health.”

Professor Van Tongeren was also recently involved in a workshop hosted by the Manchester Environment Research Institute (MERI) in collaboration with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the University of Edinburgh, with the aim to develop an international collaborative research project into air pollution and brain health.  The organisers are looking to develop an international research consortium with special focus on:

  • The critical time periods of exposure to air pollutants in relation to cognitive decline and the development of the neurodegenerative disease.
  • What components of air pollution (e.g. types of pollutants, chemical composition, physical characteristics) are driving the risk?
  • Which specific aspects of brain health are most strongly affected by air pollution?

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